I’m sitting in front of my computer after spending the morning sorting through the muddy, sewage-laden remains of our town’s beloved library. A sadly communal affair in which many of us gathered to pick through piles of soggy children’s books, meticulously cataloging each book before throwing them away in large, black garbage bags. Others stood nearby dousing toys and supplies with chemical disinfectants in the hope that at least some remnants from Ida’s destruction could be salvaged.
This isn’t the first time our library has flooded. The only difference this time is that despite a massive renovation to waterproof and safeguard the ground floor against future flooding, there was even more water than the 2011 and 2007 floods. Waterproofing the building for up to 9 inches of water was simply no match against the 21 inches that poured into the building in just a few hours.
When Rare Events Become Regular Events
The library is just the tip of the iceberg of devastation that this town and neighboring communities have endured in recent years. The tableau of destruction and despair is haunting: homes buried in sewage, cars stacked on top of each other, local businesses decimated by raging waters, utility wires left dangling in trees and on roads, lives lost. I’ve witnessed so much in such a short period of time, but tragically, none of this is new.
The impact of years of overdevelopment that contributes to the loss of natural “sinks” to drain oncoming water, along with more intense and frequent weather events, have combined to make our town and other coastal communities vulnerable to persistent devastation.
What is new, however, is the frequency and intensity of these terrible natural disasters, not just in my town, but everywhere. There’s more of every conceivable natural hazard: more intense storms, more heatwaves, more drought, more extreme flooding …
A FEMA representative interviewed this morning pointed out that the number of FEMA declared disasters has significantly increased in recent years. Just take a look at NOAA’s Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters page and you’ll get the picture. What a profoundly horrific waste of money, resources and lives.
The fact is that our world has changed.
What Can Be Done?
What can be done? The first step is to acknowledge that our world isn’t the way it used to be. We are in a climate crisis and we shouldn’t call it anything else. There is time to confront this crisis but we must act now and we must act decisively.
Part of the solution is to make personal lifestyle changes, but we must also put persistent and intense pressure on the two groups that can have an outsized impact on real change.
The first, our elected representatives, must be called upon to work more swiftly to codify climate crisis mitigation policies. Don’t wait until election day to hold them accountable. Reach out to your local and state representatives and demand they make climate action their top legislative priority.
The second group comprises corporations that are the chief contributors to this climate crisis, yet are the most delinquent in making substantive change. The fossil fuel industry ranks at the top of this group, but you can add others, including the plastic packaging sector, the fashion industry, and the meat and dairy industry. Vote with your wallet by first becoming an informed consumer. Before spending your money, do a little digging into brands and companies and avoid those with greenwashing tactics while favoring businesses that embrace a circular economy.
Devastation and loss visited the people of my hometown yesterday, but we are the fortunate ones. We live in an affluent community that will bounce back. Thanks to the generous contributions of so many in our community, the library will be repaired, businesses restored, and residents will slowly return to normal life. Our main focus and resources must now turn towards those parts of the country that need help in combating this climate crisis.