After spending a weekend upstate, I felt strange driving home to await a storm, a very big storm. Why go back? I had to, I suppose. My cats would need some attention sooner or later. I have a job to go to, if the office were to be open. Still it felt strange to be heading toward the storm.
I am very lucky to have had the worst of it avoid me. My power didn’t go out, and the winds were much worse through the night on the other side of my building. The quiet yesterday was a bit, well, disquieting. Today, however, a few minutes outside in the late afternoon gave me a small reminder of the power of nature. While just yesterday the waters of the Long Island Sound were unusually high, flooding the park in which I spend a great deal of time, today things were calm, the wind only a bit stronger than usual.
If one hasn’t been paying much attention to the issues and science of climate change, one would have to wonder how we have brought about such rapid changes to the environment. Am I just getting older and therefore wrong in thinking that things didn’t happen like this “in the old days”? I don’t think so. When I lived in New York City, from 1987 to 1997, we had a huge snowstorm or two, sure. I remember walking in the street to work from the Far West Village to SoHo, since there was practically no traffic in the foot or more of snow. No one else made it in, and it was so very quiet for a weekday in Manhattan, the emptiness of the office heightened by the unusual lack of traffic. But we didn’t have weather events that one needed to prepare for, to worry about, to fear. (Sure, there might be a major human-caused event such as a blackout every decade or so.)
Now these seem to come so often in this part of the country, an area that seemed to be free of natural disasters like earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, and devastating floods. Last year on the same weekend, we had a foot of wet snow that brought down perhaps as many trees, their autumn leaves catching and holding the heavy snow. A couple months earlier, in August, Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene had made landfall in southern New Jersey at Little Egg Harbor, bringing a huge amount of rain to the New York City metro area.
It is tempting, maybe instinctual, to want to personify nature as a beautiful, yet angry, female force: Nature. Realistically, though, these “extreme weather events” must be inherently tied to human action. Maybe some of them should no longer be considered “natural” disasters. We, and our leaders, must anticipate and plan for future events. More importantly, we need leaders strong enough to build support for taking the action needed to stop heating up our planet.