RIF Refugees Give Back in the Fight Against Climate Change

May 19, 2014 – Earlier this month the National Climate Assessment released its 2014 report, confirming what most of us have known for some time: climate change is real, and it’s affecting us here and now. From prolonged droughts, to wildfires, to more powerful storm surges, crop failure, and eroding coastlines, every area of the country is being affected, and we can only expect greater challenges as temperatures continue to rise. From the report:

Americans are noticing changes all around them. Summers are longer and hotter, and extended periods of unusual heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced. Winters are generally shorter and warmer. Rain comes in heavier downpours.

Other changes are even more dramatic. Residents of some coastal cities see their streets flood more regularly during storms and high tides. Inland cities near large rivers also experience more flooding, especially in the Midwest and Northeast. Insurance rates are rising in some vulnerable locations, and insurance is no longer available in others. Hotter and drier weather and earlier snow melt mean that wildfires in the West start earlier in the spring, last later into the fall, and burn more acreage. In Arctic Alaska, the summer sea ice that once protected the coasts has receded, and autumn storms now cause more erosion, threatening many communities with relocation.

As if to underscore the urgency of the report’s warnings, scientists announced last Monday that the West Antarctica Ice Sheet is in a state of essentially irreversible decline, all but guaranteeing a rise in sea level of 10 to 15 feet in the coming centuries.


The report, which is broken down by region, forecasts a Northeast subjected to longer and more frequent heat waves (made worse, especially in low-income neighborhoods with few green spaces, by the urban heat island effect), coastal damage and flooding from stronger hurricanes, and an aging infrastructure in dire need of updating.

These are not insurmountable challenges; all across the country and planet, despite the dithering of politicians and the spreading of misinformation by the fossil fuel industry, communities and individuals are adopting more ecologically-conscious lifestyles, adapting to the changes that are already here, and preparing for the ones yet to come. From the world’s largest solar power facility to simple community gardens on reclaimed vacant lots and brownfields (or rooftops!), innovative solutions are appearing each day, undertaken by ordinary yet inspired — and inspiring — people.

RIF’s Urban Farm Project participants and their colleagues at the Brooklyn Grange belong to that inspirational group. Refugees and asylum seekers, many of them come from developing nations that bear little responsibility for the greenhouse gas emissions currently slow-cooking the planet, yet which will undoubtedly suffer the most from a changing climate: rising seas and rivers, competition for dwindling resources, and potential food shortages brought on by erratic weather all threaten to create massive refugee crises in the coming decades. Yet here in New York, up on the rooftop farms of the Brooklyn Grange, RIF participants are engaged in the type of work that will strengthen the self-sufficiency and improve the health of our city and planet — no easy task, and more important now than ever.

Photo: Anne Sainte-Pierre
Photo: Anne Sainte-Pierre

During the 2013 season in partnership with the Brooklyn Grange, Urban Farm Project participants grew 50,000 pounds (25 tons) of vegetables for sale to local restaurants and CSA (community-supported agriculture) members, and helped save two million gallons of rainwater which would have otherwise run off into our streets and sewers. They also act as ambassadors to farm visitors (up to 20,000 in a season) wishing to learn more about urban agriculture and where their food comes from. With a significant portion of our greenhouse gas emissions coming from the agricultural sector and the transportation it involves, this local and sustainable approach to food production is at the forefront of the effort to adapt to and mitigate climate change.

As well as providing local, healthy food to the community, the rooftop farms act as a carbon sink, not only sequestering carbon in their soil, but helping to purify and even cool the air as well, diminishing the heat island effect that can make summers in the city so unbearable (a much-welcomed benefit, with temperatures set to continue rising).

RIF’s Urban Farm Project also prepares its participants for jobs in the expanding green economy, providing valuable skills through workshops and resume-building courses. Though not all the Project’s graduates go on to work in the food or sustainability fields, their time and experience at the farms leaves them with a marketable set of skills as well as the gratification of having contributed in a tangible way to the health and resiliency of their new home.

The issue of our time, climate change will affect all of us in the coming years; facing the challenges ahead requires that we develop strong communities with a renewed awareness of our place in the ecosystem. The refugees and asylum seekers of RIF’s Urban Farm Project, the newest members of our community, are helping to lead that effort.

Content originally appeared at Growing Together.


All content copyright © Chris Barrett 2015 unless otherwise credited.