It’s Good to Feel Small
Extreme weather may help remind humans of their place in the bigger scheme of things
Like many north easterners, I’m still digging myself out from the destruction of Hurricane Ida — or, as my insurance company reminds me—“tropical depression” Ida, which is not eligible for a claim on my special “hurricane extension.” Although I lost some precious archives (letters from Timothy Leary, the first dozen Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle comics, newspapers saved from the JFK assassination, moon landing, and Nixon resignation) the real damage was light. My finished basement is now, well, finished in another way.
But the waves of muddy water that took out my home office did a whole lot worse to many of my friends and neighbors, who could only watch as cars floated into their homes, their kids had to be rescued from upstairs floors by fire fighters, and their houses became unlivable. Nothing like this had happened here in anyone’s living memory.
As I looked over the devastated high school track and football field with a former local cop who has lived here for 65 years, he remarked to me “well, at least we don’t have to worry about this happening for another thousand years.” He was taking the weather reporters’ claim that this was a “thousand year” event literally. Like a financial advisor who claims that stock market investments eventually revert to the mean and produce steady gains over time, he was assuming that nothing fundamental has changed. Now that we had our once-in-a-millennium storm, everything would surely be fine for the rest of our lifetimes.
Of course, those of us who believe the 99% of the scientific community that the forest fires, increased rainfall, extreme weather, rising ocean temperature, melting of glaciers, erosion of topsoil, depletion of aquifers, and so on, are part of a new trend, understand such events differently. Like the plumbers and contractors who have been doing storm repairs, we accept that since at least Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, we have been in a “new normal” of extreme weather events, and that our current infrastructure is not up to the challenge. My even…