The reality of climate change will require leaders like San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz. Hit with Hurricanes Maria and Irma in 2017, Puerto Rico lost at least 2,975 lives and estimates that it will cost $139 billion to fully recover. Since ascending to a national platform for unabashedly calling out President Donald Trump over his disastrous response to this crisis, Cruz has pushed for a transformation of Puerto Rico that returns autonomy to the island's people. This approach also clashes with that of Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rossello, who in classic "Shock Doctrine" style is using the chaos of the aftermath to open the island up to private development for private gain. As she continues to triage a city still on the mend, Cruz took time out to speak with The Progressive about what climate justice can look like.
Q: How is Puerto Rico grappling with the idea of climate change as it recovers from devastation?
Carmen Yulin Cruz: Unfortunately, Maria and Irma opened up a new reality, which was there, but that people had refused to see. No longer is climate change something abstract, but it has concrete effects on the lives of the people of Puerto Rico. Words like "resilience" have also taken on a different meaning.
In San Juan, we have changed our perspective on public policy. Number one: Everything has to be energy efficient or solar powered. Number two: Everything has to have redundancy. We have to plan for the worst-case scenario. We construct resilience into everything that we build now.
Q: What is your climate-resilient vision for Puerto Rico?
Cruz: Right now we are continuing to fight the selling of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority. Now it's a public monopoly, but [at least] the resources are in the hands of the Puerto Rican people. When disaster economics comes into play, we have to be very careful and conscious about how the decisions we make today could hinder our ability to provide for a more just and equitable society.
So one of the things we've done in San Juan is look for permanent solutions to a recurring problem. And seeing how we can develop, go around, rewrite, and transform all at the same time. We are building what we call Centers for Community Transformation for twenty-one communities that were the most impacted in San Juan by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. One is already complete, and another one is almost ready.
We take an empty building or a municipal building, and we make sure that we have enough solar power...