By Craig and Marc Kielburger
As the Brooklyn streets went dark and flooded with water, pummeled by the onslaught of Hurricane Sandy, Lizbeth Lucero watched her mother pace the apartment -- and pray.
In the weeks that followed, her family went without power or heat. Another 760,000 were forced from their homes.
A flooded Brooklyn Battery park Tunnel Oct. 30, 2012 as New Yorkers clean up the morning after Hurricane Sandy's landfall. (Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)
Churches provided blankets for cold nights while Lizbeth's family ate hot dogs and Salvadorian pupusas donated by food trucks. Still without power at home, she returned to school and a teacher offered her a warm shower in the school's basement.
Lizbeth turned it down, ashamed at needing help.
We were reminded of Lizbeth's story, and of those displaced from their homes or forced to flee their country as climate refugees, this Earth Day.
Mass displacements will soon be the new normal.
Hundreds of thousands of scientists and environmental advocates filled the streets in over 600 cities, with rallies taking place on every continent -- even Antarctica. Bill Nye told thousands gathered in the pouring rain in Washington, D.C., "We are marching today to remind people everywhere of the significance of science."
The earth needs protection -- that was a central theme of the rallies -- but so do its people. Experts say climate change poses the greatest security threat and mass displacements will soon be the new normal.
Demonstrators march to the U.S. Capitol during the March for Science in Washington, D.C., April 22, 2017. (Photo: Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)
As human-caused climate change continues to warm the planet, sea levels will rise, storms will grow stronger, floods more violent and draughts harsher. All of this puts some of the world's most vulnerable people at greater risk.
They are the human face of global warming.
On Earth Day, amid calls to reign in carbon emissions, end deforestation and protect coral reefs, we heard another conversation. Awareness was raised for Tuvalu, the Polynesian island at risk of disappearing into bloated waters, and action demanded for the 200,000 Bangladeshis who lose their homes each year from river erosion.
A young man wades through floodwaters as Funafuti, Tuvalu is inundated during one of the highest tides. (Photo: Ashley Cooper/Corbis via Getty Images)
The problem is complex, as are the solutions. But as with most climate issues, prevention is best. Reforestation, re-habilitating degraded land, and desalination of low coastal areas will ensure that at-risk communities are more resilient to change.
Once disaster strikes, another necessary step is legal recognition for the people fleeing devastation brought on by climate change.
The United Nations Refugee Convention only extends to members of persecuted groups. People driven from their homes by rising ocean tides or creeping deserts don't qualify for legal protection, which means many country's doors remain closed and safe asylum is out of reach. Some estimates say climate refugees and internally displaced people will number 50 million by 2020 and 150 million by 2050.
Bill Nye speaks during a press conference before a global climate march outside New York City Hall on Nov. 29, 2015. (Photo: Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
After Hurricane Sandy, Lizbeth poured herself into climate action. She marshalled her community to join the 300,000 strong People's Climate March in Manhattan in 2014. And she became a leader in the Red Hook Initiative to help build a resilient and healthy community.
The helplessness she felt during the hurricane was Lizbeth's spark. It was part of what drove her to become the first person in her family of Mexican immigrants to graduate high school.
Now studying development sociology at Cornell, she carries that spark with her, a glimmer of hope that vulnerable people will not be forgotten.
Craig and Marc Kielburger are the co-founders of the WE movement, which includes WE Charity, ME to WE Social Enterprise and WE Day.
Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook
Also on HuffPost:
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlights six main lines of evidence for climate change.First, we have tracked (see chart) the unprecedented recent increase in the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases since the beginning of the industrial revolution. Without human interference, the carbon in fossil fuels would leak slowly into the atmosphere through volcanic activity over millions of years in the slow carbon cycle. By burning coal, oil, and natural gas, we accelerate the process, releasing vast amounts of carbon (carbon that took millions of years to accumulate) into the atmosphere every year.
We know from laboratory and atmospheric measurements that such greenhouse gases do indeed absorb heat when they are present in the atmosphere.
We have tracked significant increase in global temperatures of at least 0.85°C and a sea level rise of 20cm over the past century.
We have analyzed the effects of natural events such as sunspots and volcanic eruptions on the climate, and though these are essential to understand the pattern of temperature changes over the past 150 years, they cannot explain the overall warming trend.
We have observed significant changes in the Earth’s climate system including reduced snowfall in the Northern Hemisphere, retreat of sea ice in the Arctic, retreating glaciers on all continents, and shrinking of the area covered by permafrost and the increasing depth of its active layer. All of which are consistent with a warming global climate.
We continually track global weather and have seen significant shifts in weather patterns and an increase in extreme events all around the world. Patterns of precipitation (rainfall and snowfall) have changed, with parts of North and South America, Europe and northern and central Asia becoming wetter, while the Sahel region of central Africa, southern Africa, the Mediterranean and southern Asia have become drier. Intense rainfall has become more frequent, along with major flooding. We’re also seeing more heat waves. According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) between 1880 and the beginning of 2014, the 19 warmest years on record have all occurred within the past 20 years; and 2015 is set to be the warmest year ever recorded.The map shows the percentage increases in very heavy precipitation (defined as the heaviest 1 percent of all events) from 1958 to 2007 for each region.
Follow Craig and Marc Kielburger on Twitter: www.twitter.com/craigkielburger