In the aftermath of two huge hurricanes and over 100 immense wildfires in the Western US, as a small business advocate, I can no longer be silent on an issue threatening small business owners—climate change. Climate change is real. It’s disastrous. It’s getting worse. And it’s a danger to small businesses, including yours.
Although I was safely located thousands of miles away, I watched Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Harvey with a personal sense of dread.
I’ve been fortunate to be invited to work with small business owners in dozens of locations in Irma’s and Harvey’s paths. I’ve spent time with the small business communities in St. Thomas, St. Croix, the British Virgin Islands—all areas hit hard by Hurricane Irma. Many will lose their businesses. Many more will struggle to hang on.
In Florida, I’ve frequently spoken in Miami as well as to small business communities throughout the state. I know well the small business consultants of Hillsborough County, Florida, which covers Tampa. They’ll be going into overdrive trying to help small businesses recover from Irma—some of which won’t make it, as even minor costs of damage repair (as well as loss of business) will prove to be too much.
I know Texas very well. A few years ago, the Houston Small Business Development Centers brought me on a tour throughout much of the area of South Texas hit by Hurricane Harvey.
These are real people. Real small businesses. And they’re being threatened by disasters brought about by a warmer climate. Many will lose their businesses and their livelihoods. Don’t expect Federal assistance to save them—most is in the form of loans, not grants.
It’s not just hurricanes. My sister and brother have lived in Southern Oregon for three decades. My sister owns a small business there. Summers used to be beautiful, attracting both tourists and locals enjoying outdoor activities under sparkling blue skies. Now, summer after summer, the skies are grey, filled with ash week after week from massive forest fires, often hundreds of miles away. Outdoor activities, including boating, fishing, hiking, rafting, even wine tasting are heavily curtailed. The renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival cancelled some performances due to smoke and ash. Small businesses throughout the West suffer.
This is climate change in action. And it’s only going to get worse unless we all do something about it.
Here’s how disasters caused or exacerbated by climate change are likely to hit your own small business:
- Higher insurance rates. Wherever you live, you may now find yourself in a disaster-prone area with higher insurance rates. As I write this, tropical storms are now hitting inland areas never before hit by such weather.
- Loss of business. When a disaster hits, even if your business is thousands of miles away, your suppliers or customers may suffer. Your cash flow and credit will take a hit.
- Loss of tourist dollars. Tourist areas, such as coastal areas, mountains (think ski areas), forests, are all particularly susceptible to climate-related events. If your business depends on tourists, you’re very vulnerable.
- Fewer resources. Americans pull together after natural disasters, providing both government and private relief. But dollars spent on disaster recovery aren’t available to you for small business loans, economic development in your community, purchases in your business.
- Higher taxes. All this recovery costs governments, and you, money.
What can you do?
- Admit climate change is real. There’s no longer a scientific debate. The planet is warming, and human activity is contributing to that warming. Natural disasters are getting more intense and more frequent.
- Reduce your own carbon footprint and waste. This not only saves the planet, it saves you money. Whatever you use, buy, or ship consumes resources. I’m a publisher, and printing and shipping books consumes huge amounts of fossil fuels. We’ve switched to digital or print-on-demand (which vastly reduces inventory) whenever possible.
- Demand attention from your elected officials. Let’s reduce the likelihood these disasters will keep occurring. Vote for politicians who understand the threat of climate change and will take government action, such as supporting renewable energy sources and supporting the Paris Climate Change accord. Challenge politicians who deny climate change.
Climate change affects everyone, but if you own or run a small business, it’s directly affecting your bottom line. Let’s all do something about it.
Copyright, Rhonda Abrams, 2017
This article originally ran in USA Today on September 13, 2017