Board member becomes climate change advocate

After conducting research on topic
Thu, 10/03/2019 - 5:15pm

I’m arguing that the impact is happening now. That time is of the essence. And, although I feel it is almost insurmountable to reverse its impact, I choose not to focus on that. I choose to focus on how I can affect change.”

Island resident Socha Cohen made those remarks during an interview with The Times, when she explained the status of her research on climate change. Cohen has become an advocate after taking a course required by the State of Rhode Island (PREP-RI) for New Shoreham Planning Board members.

As a member of the Planning Board she has been instrumental in assisting efforts to address sea level rise on Block Island. Cohen has compiled about 100 pages of data on the subject of climate change, and provided that information to the board, as well as the Town of New Shoreham.

Cohen led a climate change discussion at the Island Free Library on Saturday, Sept. 28 centered on a book titled “Falter” written by journalist and activist Bill McKibben. The book was part of the library’s book club picks.

“He calls it a climate crisis,” said Cohen of McKibben. “That the world has experienced climate change before, but not at its current speed. Human suffering has already begun” as a result.

A recent Washington Post poll echoes McKibben’s prognostication, noting that 38 percent of Americans now consider climate change to be a crisis, while another 38 percent call it a major problem.

“We are destroying our environment and on the way to being replaced by robots and artificial intelligence,” said Cohen, referencing McKibben’s book. “He describes the situation as the problem from hell: governments prefer to evade it. Human psychology is not designed to cope with it.”

Cohen’s assessment of climate change impact on the planet isn’t as dire. She noted that the problem is a big one that needs to be addressed, but she does not believe the impacts are irreversible.

“I feel we have the ability to adapt, as well as reverse the process,” said Cohen. “There are so many technological advancements and methods that are already in existence to help us do that. So, theoretically, the planet could become healthy again, but we need to act now.”

Cohen and McKibben believe that what is most needed to reverse the impact of climate change is policy change at the local, state, and federal level, as well as globally. She said the United States needs to “join forces” with other countries to try to cut CO2 emissions, and evolve the usage and installation of solar, wind and other renewable energy resources. Cohen said there also needs to be better communication of the issues and the science of climate change to the public, which she says has been confirmed scientifically. 

Cohen said that if policy change isn’t implemented in the near future to address pending adverse issues the impact will continue and could become irreversible.

She noted that pollution and heat waves as a result of global climate change, have not only killed many people, but destroy plant life impacting the balance of our ecosystems. She pointed out that when plant life perishes so do the things that feed on it, leading to a destructive cycle.

Cohen said a heat wave in western Russia led to the deaths of 55,000 people during the summer of 2010. This was confirmed by the University of Oxford, which noted on its website that the deaths were “a combination of manmade and natural factors.” And that, “the frequency of occurrence of such heat waves has increased by a factor of three over recent decades, new research suggests.”

Cohen detailed on a map of Block Island how the island could be in danger of becoming several islands. She said the most vulnerable points on the island are the Old Harbor downtown area, Bridge Gate Square, Corn Neck Road and Beach Avenue. “We should be preparing for the impact of a category three hurricane, like the one that struck in 1938,” she said, noting what she learned from Dr. Michael Oppenheimer, who is a climate change expert and Block Island resident. 

She also said there are dangerous, long-dormant toxins and bacteria that are being released from the melting polar ice caps that are a threat to human life. She said she is aware that recent scientific survey studies have indicated a dramatic change in the jet stream around the Arctic that is influencing global weather patterns.

As a result, Cohen said she has become an activist in the battle to combat the impact of climate change. She said her approach is three-fold: (1) support: by disseminating information; (2) educate; and (3) advocate; to bring about policy change.

“I’m on my own right now with my advocacy, but I feel I should be working with a group,” said Cohen, noting that she wants to become involved with a group or grassroots organization. “How can I make myself be heard? My challenge is: how do I get the information I have learned out to the public? My ultimate goal is advocacy.”

Of Cohen, Kristin Baumann, director of the Island Free Library, said, “We are grateful Socha shared her passion for climate change with our library community and we look forward to the next climate change action read, and discussion of the book, “Rising,” which she will be leading as well.” The date and time of the “Rising” discussion has not yet been determined. Learn more at