Hurricane María: time to turn data into action

Programa del Estuario de la Bahía de San Juan / Estuario Revive  / Hurricane María: time to turn data into action

— Hurricane María: time to turn data into action

When I heard the forecast of the arrival of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, it felt like hearing a report from the Puerto Rico Climate Change Council.

The mission of the Puerto Rico Climate Change Council is to generate scientific reports on the current and potential impact of climate change on people living in vulnerable communities, infrastructure, ecosystems and wildlife populations. Their reports are often highly technical and unattractive to the general public. However, the news about Hurricane Maria was called climate change everywhere.

Describing the atmospheric phenomenon as a ferocious one that followed the passage to another historically intense, gaining forces by the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea and threatening to flood the coasts by the surge in the swell, I had nothing else to conclude that what I listened was the statement that we are already living the new hostile climate that has been talked about for decades. This time it was reporters who presented this report in a natural way. Finally, climate change was a relevant issue for all.

However, prior to the threat of Hurricane Irma and the arrival of Hurricane Maria, scientific data reflecting this potential impact were never translated into a common language. There has been no intentional campaign in Puerto Rico for this data to be considered in generating public policies that encourage prevention and adaptation; to halt the development of any project in vulnerable areas, or to achieve the operation of electricity generating plants by means of renewable resources.

The lack of translation of the results of scientific studies on climate change and its imminent impact on our environment is a serious ofense. Given this information, we must raise the voice of alert to achieve action towards adaptation and prevention. It is necessary that in Puerto Rico we make a transition from academia to action; that we develop public policy with this information; that we collaborate with every sector and that, once and for all, let not the political agendas lead the reins of our country, the reins of our future.

On the road to reconstruction, it is important that we take into account the track record of destruction and impact left by Hurricane Maria. Within the misfortune that we live we have this in our favor, a clear idea of areas not suitable for development and deficiencies in our infrastructure. Keeping this impact in our minds is important when proposing redevelopment measures.

My suggestion is one that incorporates not only studies of climate scientists but also food security, alternative and collective transportation, the development of renewable energy and natural resources as assets for economic development in reconstruction models. Only in this way will we promote opportunities to rise even stronger than we were as the Enchanted Island.

We are all part of the ambitious country agenda that lies ahead of Hurricane Maria. It is not cost-effective to work with independent agendas, obviating reality. I assure you that at the end of the road we will meet face to face and we will have no choice but to accept that our scientists were right: the threat to climate change for Puerto Rico is real and we are already experiencing its severe impact. Considering climate change right now is a matter of life and death.


Brenda Torres

Brenda Torres Barreto is a professional in the field of sustainability with vast experience in environmental management, corporate social responsibility and public policy development through empowerment and multisector alliances. She has excelled in leadership positions in Puerto Rico and the United States. Her professional career has led her to be part of the work team of the Secretary of the Environment of the State of New York. It was there that Torres Barreto advised Governor Andre W. Cuomo on environmental policy and had the opportunity to develop the state environmental justice platform in New York. Prior of working in the governor's office, Brenda led the efforts of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in the Northeastern United States. From this position, she represented the interests of Puerto Ricans on the Island and Puerto Ricans in this region of the US facing federal agencies, state and municipal governments. Among the initiatives promoted during this period is the development of the Puerto Rican Creative Network and the National Puerto Rican Agenda. Brenda oversaw the federal and state efforts for the revitalization and sustainability of Vieques and for the dredging project in the Caño Martín Peña. Currently, Brenda serves as Executive Director of the San Juan Bay Estuary Program, an initiative focused on the restoration of water bodies in the metropolitan area of Puerto Rico. Through the Estuary Program, Torres Barreto coordinates multisector efforts, empowers citizens to be part of the restoration process and ensures the well-being of residents of the metropolitan area. In the past, Brenda has advised government, business and community leaders in the application of sustainability practices in their social and economic projects. Brenda is the founder of the Latino Climate Action Network, which allows emerging leaders to take part in the discussion on climate justice by preparing them to evaluate and propose policy briefings. Torres Barreto also led the community revitalization effort in Williamsburg, Brooklyn through a comprehensive program called the "Green Light District." Brenda’s passion is the management of non-profit organizations for the conservation and restoration of habitats. In California, Brenda served as the Executive Director of the Audubon Society's third largest chapter in this state, serving 4,000 active members and more than 100 volunteers. Ms. Torres Barreto also worked as a public policy analyst for the United States Forest Service in Washington, DC, where she evaluated mechanisms for the ecosystem assessment of national forests in the western United States. She has served in numerous forums by providing policy advice on major restoration projects and social projects in California, New York and Puerto Rico. Brenda collaborates with the Puerto Rican diaspora and contributes to the empowerment of this population in the US through her volunteer work at the Roundtable of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies of CUNY Hunter College and as a listener in the Puerto Rican National Agenda, a network of Puerto Ricans who she helped create. In addition, Brenda provides support to the residents of the Island of Vieques in matters related to the cleaning of the land in this municipality. Torres Barreto is a LEED Accredited Professional for the development of green buildings. She received a B.S. in Environmental Sciences from the University of Puerto Rico and a Master’s degree in Environmental Management from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. In 2006, Brenda was selected by the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University as a Scholarship for the CSI Center for Social Innovation to participate in the Nonprofit Leadership Executive Program, an honor bestowed to only 50 leaders in the field of nonprofit organizations worldwide each year. At the end of 2016, Brenda returned to Puerto Rico with her family to establish a home and provide the country with the best of her abilities.

No Comments

Post a Comment