Home / Blogs / Global Trends the Chesapeake Community Can’t Ignore
February 2, 2022
Last year, as we at the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay celebrated our 50th anniversary, we had a great time looking through our archives. It was also enlightening; we uncovered so many photos, partnership letters, project reports, and board meeting minutes — all of which helped us piece together where the organization has been in those five decades. But as fun and enlightening as that was, it also prompted many staff and board conversations about the critical challenges that lie ahead of us, and the Bay restoration effort as a whole, in the next five decades.
We can’t look ahead to 2071, or even the next few years, without acknowledging two major global trends that will drive drastic change in our work: the profound demographic changes we can expect to see in the not-so-distant future and the stark realities of climate change, which in many ways are already upon us. Both trends are, of course, global in scale, but they will have real impacts on the Bay region.
It is no secret that the U.S. population is getting older and more racially diverse at the same time. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that 2030 will be a “demographic turning point,” when the entire Baby Boom generation (born 1946–64) will be older than 65 — meaning one in five Americans will be at or older than retirement age.
At the same time, the racial and ethnic composition of the younger cohort is projected to diversify dramatically. By 2060. only one-third of children and half of adults are expected to be non-Hispanic White. And then there’s climate change, which simply cannot be denied or ignored any longer; the world’s climate is changing. The impacts expected to occur in the Chesapeake Bay mimic the projections for the East Coast of the U.S. and include:
Increasingly severe storms and longer periods of dry and wet weather: This year, Annapolis saw remnants of Hurricane Ida kick up an F-2 tornado that destroyed businesses and houses in its wake.
Sea level rise: The subsiding landmass of the Chesapeake, combined with rising water levels, make for a perfect storm of increasingly frequent flooding in low-lying, vulnerable areas. Annapolis experienced an average of 3.8 floods per year from 1957 to 1963. Compare that to the seven-year period of 2007 through 2013, when flooding occurred an average of 39 times a year, according to the Maryland Commission on Climate Change.
Increasingly strange and extreme weather: Some jokingly call this “global weirding,” but it’s quite real, with real consequences. For instance, half of the largest snowstorms on record for the region have occurred in the last two decades — since 2003, to be exact.
What does an aging and diversifying population in a time of climate crisis mean? Well, it means a few things for the Chesapeake Bay, and for the Alliance, in the next 50 years. It means working at the intersection of environmental health and human health is more critical than ever. Many of the methods we adopt to mitigate, prevent and adapt to the day-to-day impacts of climate change can be engineered to improve equity in both social justice and environmental justice issues.
When we focus on urban neighborhoods for tree-planting funds and initiatives, we can help reduce the urban “heat island” effect, which increases the risk of heat stroke and takes many lives every year in underserved and comparatively treeless communities.
When we focus on urban neighborhoods for rain garden installations and other natural methods for absorbing and filtering increasingly heavy rainfall, we keep polluted floodwaters out of streets and prevent basement flooding in homes that can least afford the damage.
When we implement workforce development initiatives, we can choose to introduce people from all communities and income strata to real-world skill sets and educational opportunities for entry into the environmental field.
When we understand that diversity in any ecosystem is critical to its resilience and vibrancy, we understand the need for the environmental movement to diversify — to very intentionally include the perspectives that aren’t currently represented — for the sake of equitable and just solutions for the long-term future.
So, where do you start or continue? I do not have all the answers, of course, but I have a few examples of how the Alliance, and I personally, have been working to center equity in our work. As in forming any new habit, like remembering to bring your reusable bags into every store, it takes time and practice.
Diversify your social media feeds: There are so many amazing social media accounts out there, curated by incredible emerging and national leaders from diverse walks of life. Add the website of United Women on the Fly or Instagram pages like the Black Forager (more than 800,000 followers), Intersectional Environmentalism (more than 400,000) or Hunters of Color.
Invite new voices to conversations: We all have an opportunity to invite new voices to decision-making conversations, where they can contribute new perspectives. When you head to that next networking event, think of a colleague or acquaintance to invite who might have an entirely different point of view or life experience.
Pay speakers and “thought partners”: It is important that we pay the leaders we ask to join us to speak or share thought leadership in professional spaces. Work of this kind should be treated as just that: work.
Re-think who you learn from: I’m always looking for new leadership blogs and information, and I have made a conscious effort to seek new perspectives from non-White thought leaders, researchers, and writers.
The next 50 years of work ahead of us will continue to challenge both our ecosystems and our human systems and will continue to require persistence and focus. Just remember, our actions don’t have to be perfect or profound, and they won’t immediately fix anything. But we have to take those first steps, and they should be in the direction of equity and inclusion.
Chief Executive Officer
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Bay Journal Diversity, Equity and Inclusion News Staff Blog