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Image: Gabriela Aoun Angueira (Astonished residents in Capitola, CA, gathered to look at the town's destroyed wharf during a break between rain storms on Jan. 8.)

Gabriela Aoun Angueira

Climate solutions writer

Hi Uprooters! Gabriela Aoun Angueira — or Gabi — here, writing from Encinitas, California.

I’m a climate solutions writer at Grist, and I spent much of this month driving across California exploring how people were grappling with the nearly relentless rainfall that drenched the state for the better part of three weeks. The experience made me reflect on an unconventional but powerful climate solution — our family bonds. 

As we confront the impacts of climate change, families can be a profound source of resilience. I saw this firsthand when I visited Capitola, a community just east of Santa Cruz, a few days after unruly seas brewed up by the storm broke the city’s wharf in half. During a break in the rain one morning, relatives were hard at work sweeping out water and cleaning debris from shuttered businesses before the next storm arrived.

In the Mexican restaurant El Toro Bravo, Hillary Guzmán and Kristie Guzmán Baron were hurriedly preparing to open for lunch. The restaurant had been shut for three days. When the power went out, they had to throw away all their food. “People told us to call insurance, but no insurance can replace just coming into work every day and keeping this place open,” said Guzmán. The women’s grandmother, Delia, started El Toro Bravo 55 years ago. Guzmán grew up in the restaurant, and now her children were working there too. When water covered the floors, she said, the whole family cleaned up together. 

A climate emergency like an atmospheric river storm can overburden emergency services. For some vulnerable people, family members will be their first line of defense. In Stockton, I met Mary Gómez, who’d lived in the same neighborhood for more than 50 years. Her house faced a levee that was at risk of breaching in a big storm. Gómez, 70, worried that if the levee broke in the middle of the night, she’d be caught by surprise. “Where would I go?” she asked. Her daughters, Chiquita Villa and Manuela Gómez, reassured her: “You’d come with us, of course.”

I know firsthand how important family ties can be in the face of climate emergencies. After Hurricane María struck Puerto Rico in 2017, my family’s WhatsApp group served as our communications hub. We checked in on loved ones and coordinated sending supplies. Of course, María also showed in the starkest way how climate change can wrest families apart: About 160,000 people left the archipelago in the months following the storm. Most have still not returned. 

I was reminded last week that family can also be the impetus for real climate progress. I rode in a brand new electric truck as it picked up a delivery from the Long Beach Port. The driver, Alex López, told me the new trucks weren’t perfect, but he wanted to be part of the transition to cleaner transportation. As we watched an electric crane hoist a container onto a truck, the father of two said, “It makes me full of thoughts and emotions. This is our kids’ future.” 

I hope to read some of your stories about the role of family in fighting climate change. In the meantime, I’ll be enjoying a reprieve from the rain. When the sun came out last weekend, I took a peaceful walk through a lagoon reserve — with my mom. 


Image: Gabriela Aoun Angueira (Businesses were temporarily shuttered after massive waves struck Capitola's waterfront.)
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