We’re drawn to water and connected through water, especially gardeners. Most of the gardeners I know—not just in WNY but all over the US—spend half their growing seasons hoping for water in the form of rain. They have rain gauges and weather stations and use apps and websites to monitor annual rainfall in their areas. They have become amateur rain scientists. Gardeners try to save rain with rain barrels and to stop it from running out into storm gutters—as much as they can—through creating rain gardens and other plantings that capture water.
We revel in water as humans, seeking out opportunities to swim, splash, and float. I’m often scheming about how I could get a small, good-looking pool installed, and I haven’t given up. I love beaches even more. For years, we have spent at least one summer week on the beautiful coast of North Carolina, a place very familiar to me from childhood summers spent there when my father was in the USMC Reserve. Given the number of summers, and, later, visits, it’s inevitable that we’d encounter hurricanes now and then, and we have; our family started coming down just after the one everybody still talks about, Hazel. None of the storms we’ve encountered called for evacuations or drastic measures; as a child, I found them exciting.
Over the past 20 years, however, the number of hurricanes hitting NC and throughout the US are having increasingly devastating effects on property and ecosystems. University-based studies confirm that storm surges are getting bigger and bigger, though a 2010 NC Coastal Resources Commission study about the surges was banned by state government. The question of whether climate change increases the chances of these storms is in some ways not even relevant; a bigger factor is that far greater numbers of residential and business populations are in the path of this weather, whatever is causing it. And they’re not ready for it.
One does not judge where people choose to live or need to live. I can’t imagine dealing with yearly incidences of tornadoes, wildfires, and earthquakes, which are not common where I live. But then, many others cannot face the possibilities of freezing cold weather, snow, and occasional blizzards. So be it.
However, to ignore weather and climate trends in the face of loss of human life, damage to ecosystems, and destruction of property makes no sense. In 2012, North Carolina passed a law that effectively ordered state and local agencies that develop coastal policies to ignore scientific models showing an alarming acceleration in sea level rise. Since then, storm surges (including Florence, the most recent) have engulfed homes and flooded areas with waste from pig farms and toxic disposal sites. These events also cause fish kills and algae blooms.
If the study had been accepted and measures taken to adjust developments, reinforce at-risk infrastructure, and take other precautions specific to storm surges of a nature never before anticipated, could the disaster we’re now seeing unfold (and have seen unfold so many times elsewhere) be averted? I suppose we don’t know. And we’ll never know as long as the denial of science continues to be government policy at so many levels. Maybe once we’re all under water, we’ll figure it out.