Climate activist Jerome Ringo protests ahead of Earth Day in front of the climate clock amid the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) in the Manhattan neighborhood of New York City, New York, April 19, 2021.
Carlo Allegri | Reuters
Jerome Ringo is 66 years old and has lived in Lake Charles, Louisiana all his life. He’s seen a lot of hurricanes.
“We evacuated because of Hurricane Katrina, Rita, Gustaf, Ike, Laura, Beta,” Ringo told CNBC on Tuesday in a telephone conversation. “Well, since 2005 I would honestly say that it has been eight to ten times.”
Evacuating from storms was a part of Ringo’s whole life. “It goes back to when we were kids for Hurricane Audrey in 1957,” he told CNBC.
But the exit orders have become more frequent.
“Usually you evacuate once a year. Now we see where you evacuate several times a year, because the frequency of storms has increased with increasing storm intensity with increasing climate impacts.”
Ringo has always returned to Lake Charles, but he knows many who have left and “vowed never to return,” he said.
“I was asked, ‘Why don’t you go? Why don’t you move?'” Said Ringo.
There is no place to run now. The United States of America is becoming a ground zero for climate change.
Climate activist, entrepreneur
“Well, where are you going? If I move to the west coast, I’ll have to deal with fires. If I move to Central America, I’ll have to deal with tornadoes. If I move to the Tennessee Valley area, I have to … If I move to the East Coast, the East Coast is now hit by hurricanes like the Gulf because the water temperatures on the East Coast are as high as the Gulf of Mexico, which is a magnet for strong hurricanes. So now there is no more place to escape. The United States of America is becoming ground zero for climate change. “
Why he doesn’t go: “I’m a frontline fighter”
As Hurricane Ida approached the Gulf of Mexico, Ringo prepared for evacuation by boarding up his home, which was ravaged by Hurricane Laura a year ago. He had only moved back into his apartment about two weeks earlier after lengthy reconstruction efforts.
“The problem with the Gulf Coast is that every storm takes forever to fix your home,” said Ringo. Between hurricane damage on the Gulf Coast, forest fires in California, floods in the Central region and Tennessee Valley, insurance companies “have to pay premiums like crazy now. So repairing your property is really difficult,” he said.
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The home of Jerome Ringo after Hurricane Laura in 2020.
Photo courtesy Jerome Ringo
“All over the city there are blue tarpaulins on the roofs of the houses, still from Hurricane Laura.”
Ringo and his family left Lake Charles on Friday, two days before the storm hit land on Sunday.
“The traffic was bumper to bumper,” said Ringo. “You speak of millions of people. Miles of traffic in a row.”
He went to Houston to stay in a hotel that is covered by insurance. He’s lucky to have insurance, he said. Many cannot afford it.
Large storms create a “domino effect” that worsens poor conditions for people at risk, Ringo said.
“Because they have no money. They have no jobs because businesses have been destroyed. So you cannot work. There is no work. Restaurants are destroyed. So you cannot go out and get food … Isn’t it? It’s unusual that people are still getting free food from churches, the Red Cross, and whatever is available to feed their families. “
“I can’t leave these people,” said Ringo. “My God, I grew up poor.”
Ringo’s grandfather and parents hunted rabbits and fish. “We lived on the land,” he said. “If you didn’t have a hunter in your family, you often didn’t eat.”
Ringo is one of six brothers and his father left him when he was in eighth grade. “My mother raised us pretty much on her own,” said Ringo.
Today Ringo is co-founder and chairman of Zoetic Global, where he works on the commercialization of energy efficient technologies in the US and internationally, particularly in Africa. He started his career on the other end of the spectrum working in the petrochemical industry.
But he eventually went and became an environmental and sustainability leader, where he ran organizations like the National Wildlife Federation and the Apollo Alliance Project, wrote books and testified “about 40 times” before Congress, he said. He is also an ordained pastor and occasionally preaches in the interdenominational church that his wife leads and for which he is the main preacher.
Chief Business Officer of BARD Holdings Inc. Jerome Ringo (L) and Executive Director of Bold Nebraska Jane Kleeb (R) say during a hearing before the Subcommittee on Energy and Power of the House Committee on Energy and Trade on December 2, 2011 on Capitol Hill from Washington, DC
Alex Wong | Getty Images News | Getty Images
As such, Ringo has a platform that he knows many members of his local community don’t have.
“Someone will be on the front lines and fight the war or you won’t win the war. And that’s why I’m one of those front-line people,” Ringo said.
He had a place in Washington DC for 11 years. He knows he could leave Louisiana.
“I’m a frontline fighter. So the front line is not DC. The front line is on the Louisiana coast where the storms hit, where people are evacuated, where homes are destroyed. That’s the front line,” he said.
Where does Ringo’s hope come from
Ringo, well over sixty, knows that climate change will most likely not be resolved in his lifetime. But he finds consolation and takes heart because he is a link in the chain.
“If I think we had no hope of facing this, then you throw away your gun and give up. I believe that we can solve this problem – if we can solve it in my lifetime, probably not”, said Ringo. “But my generation can be the catalyst for a solution that is more of a generational solution.”
He believes that if people are educated about climate change and its causes, people will change.
Part of his belief in change comes from another social justice movement to which he has also witnessed: racism.
He recalls that Ku Klux Klansmen burned a 13-foot cross in the front yard of his family home. They tried to stop Ringo’s family from attending mostly white schools, “but we left anyway,” Ringo said.
“If you get some victories, it gives you a go-getter spirit,” said Ringo. “Despite challenges, despite adversity, if you keep fighting, you can win. You know, I could never have imagined when I went through what I went through in eighth grade with crosses burned in our courtyards, In the early 1960s and mid-1960s, I never knew that … the civil rights movement would be signed and passed … that would be equal rights for women, equal rights for the gay and LGBTQ community. “
“You could never have imagined that there could ever be victories in these areas. But because the people have continued the fight, they march on, they continue to campaign, then finally comes the successive one,” he said. “The climate movement is no different. We can win this. The only thing that guarantees us we’ll lose is to stop.”