Four years after Katrina, 100 days to Copenhagen

09/28/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Four years ago today, the lives of millions of Americans were turned upside down when Hurricane Katrina swept through the Gulf Coast. I was one of those millions. I lost my home and the business I worked so hard to build. It wasn't just my possessions that went missing in the storm; it was my livelihood, my community and my way of life that were taken away from me.

We in the Gulf Coast have weathered a hurricane or two, but scientists are warning that climate change will be increasing the frequency and intensity of hurricanes, floods and storms. As we saw in those fateful August days four years ago, it only takes one storm beyond our capacity to decimate entire communities.

Seeing my beloved Biloxi crumble before my eyes, I knew I had to stand up and help. While I never intended to become an activist, when Katrina came and took my shop away, and took my livelihood away, it was as if God had this already planned something else for me to do. And that's how I became an activist.

Today, we are working to rebuild our community piece by piece, but it sure hasn't been easy. I hear the stories of my neighbors who are struggling. Jobs and economic opportunities dry up when a city is destroyed, leaving families without their livelihoods. For women, who are more likely to live below the poverty line, it's even harder. They are often left carrying two loads and this burden can be even heavier.

These tragic stories aren't only happening in the US, they are happening all over the world. A recent Oxfam report forecasts the number of people affected by climate change to increase by half by 2015, to about 375 million people worldwide. That's more than the entire population of the United States.

Climate change impacts everyone, but it hits the poorest first and hardest, despite having contributed the least to the crisis. For millions, it means the inability to grow food, leaving them hungrier and poorer. This not only causes more instability in places throughout South Asia and Africa, it also leaves everyone all over the world vulnerable to the ravaging effects of this global crisis.

Here home, our legislators have an opportunity to take the lead when it comes to stopping climate change. Our leaders can step up with legislation that not only addresses the climate crisis we are facing, but the human crisis we will face in the future.

Helping the poorest and most vulnerable, especially women, increase their preparedness to weather the future storms of climate change can help all of us. In policy speak, it's called adaptation, but what it boils down to is assisting poor communities to help them weather the next storm. It means helping them to build barriers to better weather hurricanes or to open food banks when there's not enough food.

Our nation can take the lead to help the world and help ourselves. Tackling the issue of climate change can help generate green jobs in the US and allow us to regain our global economic strength. We are a country of innovation and the demand for clean energy technology and services can give our economy just the kick start it needs.

In just 100 days, the nations of the world will come together in Copenhagen to work towards an agreement about how to reduce climate change. In order for those international negotiations to be a success, we as a nation must commit to both reducing our global warming pollution and investing in the resiliency of vulnerable communities around the world so that they can better prepare and respond to the effects of climate change.

Negotiations in Copenhagen cannot fail. As President Obama put it, "We have a choice: we can either shape our future, or we can let events shape it for us. The question is whether we will have the will to do so, whether we'll summon the courage and exercise the leadership to chart a new course. That's the responsibility of our generation; that must be our legacy for generations to come."

Let's live up to our responsibilities, America. Let's not wait for the next devastating Hurricane Katrina to come before we act.