This article, written in collaboration by Community Environmental Council and the Santa Barbara Foundation, features voices from participants and partners offering their perspective on the Climate Resilience Roundtables.
In early September, a group of experts gathered on Zoom to help local Santa Barbara County and City leaders, officials and planners work toward building greater local climate resilience.
Unlike a typical presentation, these experts did not bear long lists of credentials after their names, and they did not represent a line up of universities and policy centers. Nor did they all speak English. In CEC’s Climate Resilience Roundtable: Stories of Resilience from the Frontlines of Climate Change, the experts were those living the frontline experience.
Facilitator Ana Rosa Rizo-Centino, creator/co-hostess of ¡Que Madre! on KZAA 96.5FM, welcomed the audience to the event, held primarily in Spanish with English interpretation – a conscious choice to center the authentic voices of speakers and help government and community leaders see a different possibility for engaging Spanish speaking communities.
Speakers shared their firsthand experiences of weathering climate impacts and disasters: the health and safety impacts on outdoor workers during the Thomas fire; the financial challenges for families during the COVID pandemic when jobs were lost or hours cut; discrimination of indigenous cultures that prevents access to information and resources; stereotyping that prohibits people of color from feeling welcome at beaches, which are critical cooling centers during heat.
The power of the stories was palpable, as was the shift in perspective for many of the officials and participants listening in. Armed with anecdotes and hard won knowledge, these were the true climate resilience experts – people who had been digging deep wells of resilience long before the concept was trending in the broader community.
One idea rang out most clearly: the need to break down barriers that prevent marginalized groups from taking part in community planning sessions and being included in decisions that impact the lives of them and their families.
Organized in partnership with Central Coast Climate Justice Network and its partners Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project (MICOP), Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy, and the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians Environmental Office, this roundtable succeeded in flipping the norm by putting often marginalized voices on center stage. The need for centering these voices had been underscored at a separate roundtable held in August, which framed the disproportionate impacts climate change has on low-income, frontline and vulnerable communities.
Combined, these roundtables spurred action: multiple groups including the City of San Luis Obispo and City of Santa Barbara have already taken steps to create Spanish-first events that more equitably involve these community members.
This was the fourth in CEC’s Climate Resilience Roundtable series, which has gathered more than 700 big, bold ideas around safeguarding our community – including suggested projects, initiatives, collaborations and value propositions – into Opportunity Matrices. These community priorities are now being organized into CEC’s first annual Climate Resilience Priorities Snapshot Report, which will inform climate and resilience planning efforts throughout Santa Barbara County and Central Coast communities. Stay tuned for a final community roundtable in early 2021 to synthesize all we’ve learned and take the next steps toward building deep community resilience.
As threats and costs to human health mounted during COVID-19, CEC and sponsors (including The Santa Barbara Foundation) actively sought to better engage and empower underrepresented voices and perspectives in their Climate Resilience Roundtable series.
This article – including the voices of multiple partners and participants – is offered in gratitude and respect to the community members who participated – in particular those on the front lines of climate change and COVID, who took time amid the stress and challenges to share their stories so that we as a community can begin to build systems for resilience that are more equitable and just.
Watch the Stories of Resilience Roundtable recording
- Opportunity Matrix: Stories of Resilience from the Frontlines of Climate Change
- Opportunity Matrix: Vulnerability, Health, and Equity
- Find additional matrices, resources, and recordings at cecsb.org/climate-resilience-roundtables/