FOR MORE THAN 25 years we lived next to the Esopus Creek in the middle of the Catskill Mountains. The stream flooded every few years. The Esopus roars as it rises. Some years it filled our basement with five feet of water. The water left quickly for New York City. The fire company pumped out what was left.
The price to repair or remodel a flooded home can be high. That’s a part of life when a stream is your neighbor. Except once was different. It rained, then snowed then rained again. I was at home. Carol called from the village. The roads were closed. I said I’d walk a shortcut to the highway bridge to join her. Snow? No big deal. But this was more than 20 inches of slush. It grabbed my feet, then shins on the way to my knees. With each step my body weakened. My heart beat too fast. Turning put me off balance. I thought for a moment they’d find my body in the spring in my own backyard. Nothing about that sounds funny anymore.
There have been worse floods along the Esopus since we left two decades ago. But now, whenever I see video or photos of the destruction, regardless of whether it’s a warm climate or somewhere cold, I recall the tug of the slush. I felt it while following news of this week’s flooding in Jackson, Mississippi, where the mayor pleaded with residents to evacuate immediately. An underfunded and neglected sewer system was about to collapse. These floods are about more than just water.
Half a world away last week at least 1,100 have died in Pakistan from a severe drought followed by exceptional monsoon rainfall. Those who escaped the rushing water now stood, waist-deep, in a river that once was a road. It’s a picture from the future.
Worrying about the impacts of climate change will not make us any safer nor will it insulate us from the forces released by a rapidly warming planet. Small steps that may help protect us are already underway in this county. The most visible signs of that fact are the clusters of solar panels under construction or already operating around the county. If you follow local news you probably know that our emergency services are engaged in updated disaster-response planning. At some point we’ll need all the local backup power and all the trained personnel we can muster. Communities, too, are reaching beyond their borders to plan for sustaining the fabric of life here. But for all that essential energy and good will and expertise can do, it won’t be enough.
Can we maintain a democratic form of self government while we create and deploy strategies that stabilize the climate? It’s an open question. Much of the world’s population is governed by authoritarian regimes embrace actions that accelerate climate change. But before we judge those governments, we have work to do cleaning up the messes we’ve made all around this nation.
That will require electing officials to state and federal office capable of enacting legislation that significantly reduces the amount of greenhouse gasses released into the atmosphere. And they have to do that while convincing a majority of voters that changes are workable and fair.
President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act signed into law a few weeks ago directs $369 billion to address climate change gasses. It’s a staggering amount of money. But keep this in mind; it won’t be enough either.