Rhode Island senator connects with coastal Georgia experts for virtual climate change panel

Our Changing Climate

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — A United States senator held a virtual panel discussing the impacts of climate change on coastal regions.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) hosted Coastal Georgia Rising: A Conversation About Sea Level Rise on Wednesday.

The Rhode Island senator, who serves as co-chair and co-founder of the Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change and the bipartisan Senate Oceans Caucus, has taken on an active role in protecting the environment.

He invited experts from the Peach State to share how climate change has already begun to take its toll on areas close to the ocean, including Savannah.

The guest speakers that joined Whitehouse were Georgia Tech climate change science Dr. Kim Cobb and Liberty County-based Hermina Glass-Hill, a coastal historian with Susie King Taylor Institute and Georgia Interfaith Power and Light.

“Law and Order” and “The Newsroom” actor Sam Waterston, who’s also an environmental advocate, joined the conversation to discuss climate change impacts.

 “[Acting has] been my day job for a long time, but I’ve also been concerned about the oceans for a long time, since at least 1978,” said Waterston, who hails from Massachusetts.

He says he connected with Whitehouse through their mutual worries over the state of the oceans. 

“Coastal communities up and down all the coasts of the U.S., the Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific are today threatened by all the same things: sea-level rise, rising ocean temperatures and more frequent and more powerful storms,” Waterston explained during the panel.

Cobb, who has partnered with City Savannah Office of Sustainability director Nick Deffley and Chatham Emergency Management Agency Assistant Director Randall Mathews, delved into the challenges facing Georgia along with emerging potential solutions to the climate crisis.

“What is important to recognize for those of you who don’t live on the coast is that this is not just named hurricanes that capture national headlines,” Cobb said. “This is a whole spectrum of flood hazards ranging from nuisance flooding all the way up to the most devastating hurricanes and everything in between, and this is only going to get worse.”

She says any efforts to combat climate change should center on the underserved frontline communities that oftentimes already have developed solutions of their own.

“They can help us build capacity to keep people safe and keep our economies going for the 21st century,” Cobb said, adding, “Let’s not leave behind the next generation; we were not equipped to address this problem, but let’s make sure the next generation is.”

While discussing the environmental impacts on many coastal communities of color, Glass-Hill quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who once stated, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

“The Gullah Geechee communities up and down the Georgia coast sit just over the fence of the environmental movement,” Glass-Hill said, echoing Cobb’s sentiments that these communities are “experts” that have come up with answers based on centuries of experiences and threats. 

“I’ve talked to various individuals and communities along the coast who can’t even afford property insurance because they are in these flood zones,” she said, adding, “That’s an issue that must be addressed when it comes to the culture itself.”

To view the full Facebook Live video of Coastal Georgia Rising: A Conversation About Sea Level Rise, visit Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s Facebook page by clicking this link

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