Last Summer, the Climate Crisis Hit Home — a #ClimateStory by Amazon Employee Rebecca Sheppard

Rebecca Sheppard, a Senior Product Manager at Amazon, shares her #ClimateStory:

Growing up in Wilmington, North Carolina hurricanes did not scare me. But last year when my parents chose not to evacuate during Hurricane Florence I realized the intensity of the Climate Crisis and I was afraid.

My wake up call started last August when the pristine PNW mountain air turned to smoke. The Climate Crisis has contributed to an incremental 10 million acres being burned in Western Forests. It’s used to be easy to ignore stats like that, but with Seattle summers shifting from paradise to post apocalyptic haze the statistics feel important. Last August I sat on the ferry each day commuting from my home on Bainbridge Island to the Amazon campus in downtown Seattle with my shirt pulled over my face trying *not* to breathe too deeply. At work I would blow grey snot into my Amazon provided tissues. Watching others with face masks I wondered is this the new “normal”? If so how far off are we from a world in which these face masks are insufficient to protect us from the air we’ve tainted?

My parents were coming to visit me in September and I hoped Seattle would clear up for me to share the hikes I loved. They landed September 5th and I was thrilled the smoke dissipated a bit, but the air was still hazy. My mom looked at my home surrounded by bone dry trees fearful of what would happen if the next fire started here. A question I also ask myself.

My parents took advantage of their time in the West Coast to journey down to California to see the Redwoods only to find highway closures as the wildfires continued to expand. Nature was raging on both coasts. Wilmington, NC was issued an evacuation order on September 10th. Despite that on September 11th my parents flew back into Wilmington, dismissing my pleas for them to stay until Hurricane Florence had run her course. When I asked if they were evacuating my dad scoffed “in 27 years we’ve never evacuated and we aren’t going to now”. But nature felt off kilter. The wildfires and storms in the past decade felt like they were gaining intensity.

3,000 miles away from Hurricane Florence I was afraid. One evening I called my parents and both phones were off. I knew the power had been out for and I felt a weight drop in the pit of my stomach. I imagined the worst. I called my brother in Rockingham, North Carolina and he was getting the same. Two dead phones. I asked him to drive home to check on them, but all interstates into Wilmington were closed. They were trapped. I have never had to face a natural disaster as so many others do -without a phone or a way out. I thought of those who don’t get to choose where they live or where they could go and my friends who posted pictures of their homes sitting in the aftermath of Florence’s flood.

I spent 36 hours worrying. Finally my call went through. My parents were alive, they were safe, they were still without power. All things considered they were fine.

My godfather and close family friend, however, was not fine. A tree had come splintering down on his home in the middle of the night. He was miraculously unscathed, but his Shakespeare collection, his art, drawings from children and grandchildren- his entire material life was destroyed. My stoic, independent godfather was now, as he put it, homeless. 53 people died in Hurricane Florence.

The impact of the climate crisis has been around me my whole life. For the continental United States in the Atlantic Basin, models project a 45–87 percent increase in the frequency of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes. This is a statistic that matters to me and Wilmington. But it was last summer that drove home the need to act. My recycling bin and prius are not enough. Things aren’t going to get better until we all come together and do something transformative. Carbon dioxide, methane, and Chlorofluorocarbons were already at unprecedented levels when I was born. And during my lifetime I haven’t seen the improvements I would expect from a species who could put a man on the moon.

Last year when I heard about this resolution I realized that I didn’t need to make a tradeoff between my job and being on the right side of history. At Amazon, a place where we are called to innovate, disagree and commit, and have a bias for action we can use our scale and ingenuity to lead the path forward with this Crisis. When I look at the nearly 8,000 signatures of my colleagues I know that we are leading already and I am eager for the Jeff Bezos and senior leadership to join us.