“Initially, I was shocked. The impact that the incident brought about was beyond imagination. It took me two years to accept that this event had happened!” shared Alex Chow, a well-built 17-year old, as he recalled the forest fire and landslide that hit their home hard three years ago.
California was hit by the most catastrophic forest fire on record at the end of 2017. Known as the Thomas Fire, the disaster struck the small town of Santa Barbara, California, where Alex and his family live in. The forest fires devastated the local vegetation and forests, leaving the lands bare. Then in early 2018, continuous heavy downpour which lasted for less than a month eventually led to landslides. Big rocks and sediment, together with burnt trunks and branches, poured down in torrents, destroying houses, roads, buildings and infrastructure, causing numerous injuries and even taking away lives.
Unfortunately, Chow’s house was wrecked by the landslide and they lost everything. Their close neighbours and schoolmates did not even manage to escape the disaster. When the bush fires initially happened, most of the town residents were evacuated. They were only allowed to return home when the fire was under control.
Destruction and desolation not only perturbed people’s life but also caused psychological trauma. After the disaster, the Chow family rebuilt their home and gradually life was back on track. It was not an easy journey as they took around three years to heal from both physical and mental pain.
Victim of climate change, a possibility for everyone
“In California, natural disaster happens from time to time. But I could never imagine that such a disastrous one would happen to our small town.”
Alex’s sister, Victoria, 14, who had experienced the natural disaster, said, “This could happen to anyone of us. Natural disasters are becoming more common than we thought.”
Growing up in southern California, the Chow siblings have witnessed an increase in average temperature over the years with swift temperature fluctuation occurring within hours. And this, together with shortfalls in rain, has caused thousands of bush fires to happen every year, be it large or small. With the fire igniting in the wood, the air will eventually be choked by haze and outdoor activities will be restricted. Indeed, the climate for the past decade has become increasingly dry. This has caused them to suffer from nose bleeding and dry skin, especially during the autumn.
To adapt to the ever-changing climate, they have gradually modified their lifestyles. They cultivate environmentally friendly habits, such as taking a quick shower within 5 minutes each time, switching off the light whenever not in use, and turning on the dishwasher and washing machine only when they are full. Furthermore, they have grown drought-resistant plants in their yard.
Climate Change, the cause of frequent natural disasters?
“Climate change is worsening. But this landslide was the worst, and we were directly affected.”
It is only after this disaster, the locals then recognized that everyone is equal in the face of catastrophe and that everyone should start to take actions to tackle this global issue.
The annual “Earth Day” is a big thing in California. When people discuss how to spend their time during this festive occasion, some would organise talks and sharing sessions in schools and it was no different for the high school the Chow siblings are attending. And for one of her assignments, Victoria Chow wrote an article discussing about the causes of natural disasters such as forest fires. From there, she deduced that climate change is indeed a significant contributing factor.
Similarly, Alex Chow believes the recurrence of natural disasters is likely to be a result of the worsening climate crisis. He raised examples that both the wildfire that ravaged Australia for one year and burnt countless animals together with Hurricane Harvey that devastated Texas and Louisiana were consequences of the climate changes. Sadly, there are still many that do not consider these to be the effects of global warming.
Like the Chow siblings initially, many people would never have expected to be caught in such an extreme situation, what more how it would affect them. Thus through their sharing, the siblings hope that everyone will remain vigilant and be well-prepared at all times.
Making Positive Impacts Starts with you
Recent studies have shown that the livestock industry consumes a large amount of the world's natural resources such as water and electricity.
The realisation that the livestock industry is the main culprit for the frequent natural disasters has made the Chow siblings believe that if everyone changes from being an omnivore to having a meatless diet, it can bring upon positive changes to the environment.
“Everyone should try to play their part to protect the environment by adopting a vegetarian diet. Although my brother and I are not full-fledged vegetarians, we first try to adopt a meatless diet and grow our vegetables at home,” Victoria Chow shared and acknowledged that there is still room for improvement as she is more well-informed and mature than people of her age.
“Changing habits is usually difficult at the beginning. However, if we persevere, we will be able to change it,” she then added on.
After having a close encounter with natural disasters, Alex reflected, “We should not be over-reliant on our material possessions as this may not last long during times of calamity.” Instead, he understood the importance of lifelong learning and the significance of kinship and friendship in life.
From the sharing of the Chow siblings, it echoes that regardless of how insignificant a youth’s effort may seem to be, as long as the youths believe that they can be responsible for the future of the environment and persist, they will be able to create a positive impact.