WELLFLEET — As citizens organize to address the certainty of disruptive climate-related events here, librarians — including Wellfleet’s Gabrielle Griffis — are taking a leading role in urging communities to prepare for the crisis.
An emerging statewide network called Climate Change Conversations in Libraries is cosponsoring a program on extreme weather events at the Wellfleet library at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 30. It’s part of the second annual Climate Preparedness Week, Sept. 24 to 30, organized by Communities Responding to Extreme Weather (CREW), another Massachusetts network of activists working to build local climate crisis resilience.
As the climate crisis progresses scientists predict that Cape Cod will continue to see higher temperatures, more droughts, dramatic sea-level rise, and increasingly frequent extreme weather events.
“The likely impacts on the environment, human health and safety, and local economies are serious and are projected to be very costly,” according to the Association to Preserve Cape Cod.
Griffis, who is the Wellfleet library’s outreach coordinator, heard about the librarians’ group earlier this year and attended a meeting in Worcester to learn more. There she met Madeleine Charney, a research librarian at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who has been training librarians across New England to talk about the climate crisis in their communities. She had worked with the activist group Mothers Out Front.
“Libraries are one of the last places where nobody expects you to spend a dime,” Charney told the Independent. “We refer to them as ‘third spaces’ — not home, not work, but places where people meet one another and socially engage. When you think about climate change and all the many challenges we’re already facing and will be facing, a library is a place to come together to plan, grieve, and build social infrastructure and social resilience.”
Charney, Griffis, and the other self-proclaimed “blue marble librarians” have partnered with CREW to try to get as many libraries in Massachusetts as possible to do at least one program for Climate Preparedness Week. “We set the goal at 50,” said Charney. “We’ve now surpassed 60 library events for that week across the state.” [“Blue marble” refers to the famous photograph of the Earth taken by the crew of the Apollo 17 spacecraft on Dec. 7, 1972.]
“The events are taking many different forms,” said Griffis. The Sept. 30 program in Wellfleet will have a “World Café” format.
“We’ve been very fortunate that we have so many experts and scientists come to speak on climate change,” said Griffis. “But the one thing we haven’t tried at our library is a format where people can sit down and talk to one another. This is really focused on connecting people.”
Inspired by Yarmouth tornado
Other Cape and Islands events scheduled during that last week of September include building climate emergency preparedness kits at the South Yarmouth Library and the Nantucket Atheneum.
Mindy Herington, a youth librarian in South Yarmouth, said, “Having just had the tornado here and hearing how the children were scared by it and didn’t feel safe, I felt inspired to look into what we can do to help kids be more prepared in our changing environment, as more of these events happen in our communities.”
Herington said the Barnstable County Dept. of Health and Environment will present kid-friendly emergency preparedness information and added, “We are getting feedback that this is something the community really needs after our recent experience.”
Libraries in Vineyard Haven and Chilmark, on Martha’s Vineyard, are hosting members of the international ecological crisis activism group Extinction Rebellion and weather forecaster Peter Neilley in two talks on the climate crisis. Public libraries in Dennis Port and Falmouth will host book discussions with Elizabeth Rush, author of Rising: Dispatches From the New American Shore, and the Sturgis Library in Barnstable will present representatives of 350 Cape Cod, a local branch of the international nonprofit 350 working to end the age of fossil fuels.
“The goal of these events is to start ongoing programming involving not just education and information about climate change but actual preparedness,” said Griffis. She has coordinated outreach to all the libraries in the CLAMS system to encourage them to participate in Climate Preparedness Week.
“People who come to the World Café conversation in Wellfleet should be ready to make connections with community members, to learn where they stand in terms of preparedness, and to share knowledge,” said Griffis. “I want people to leave feeling more informed and better prepared.”
Climate Preparedness Week coincides with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Preparedness Month, observed each September. FEMA’s 2019 theme is “Prepared, Not Scared,” and organizers are encouraging citizens to prepare week by week by saving for disaster costs, making a plan to prepare for disasters, teaching youth to prepare, and getting involved in community preparedness.
Griffis, who lives in Harwich, said that during the recent tornado “I realized that, rating how prepared I am for extreme weather events on a scale from one to ten, I’d give myself maybe a two. We are pretty ill equipped as individuals, and as a society.”
She noted that bits of information can be extremely important. For instance, in the wake of the tornado she learned that cracking a window on either side of your house keeps windows from imploding.
“That’s an example of ‘Okay — I wouldn’t have thought of that,’ ” she said. “Often people go to events and there isn’t an opportunity to share what they know and learn from everyone in the room.”
“We don’t need experts at this point to tell us what climate change is,” said Charney. “It’s more important to talk to one another, and I think libraries provide a needed space for citizens to connect face to face.”
A storm preparedness forum organized by Truro’s emergency response team on Sept. 10 was not well attended, but a videotape of the session can be found here and on the town website.
The librarians promoting Climate Preparedness Week say it will be followed by a series of three “zoom” calls open to anyone who “hosted, attended, or wished they attended” an event. The aim is to encourage follow-up organizing on the state and local levels.
“This is an emergent space driven by the people and for the people,” said Charney. “We need to start talking to each other so people don’t feel they’re alone in these conversations.”