And how was your weekend? Me, I spent most of it working on editing the Benedict Option book. It’s going slower than it should be because my body is slipping back into mono. Foggy brain, headache, need to sleep, the usual. I really need to finish this thing and rest. Close to the end now, but this last leg before the summit is harsh.
Last evening we drove out to Central, a community in East Baton Rouge Parish, to have dinner with some friends. Central had severe flooding in the recent disaster, though our friends’ house was spared. To get there, we had to drive out Greenwell Springs Road, which sustained some of the worst flooding. Even though I live here and have been following the news closely, there is nothing — nothing — like seeing the damage with your own eyes. You drive for miles and you see giant piles of debris in front of every house and store — and that’s only what you can see from the main road. Each pile represents most of what the family who lived there owned. I can’t say it often enough: nobody had flood insurance because most of these areas had never flooded.
Even after all we’ve seen and heard, it is still possible to be shocked by how extensive the flooding was. Driving out to Central, we passed a very large thrift store run by a church (see above). Julie gasped at the sight of so much of the store’s goods massed in piles in its parking lot. We pulled in for a closer look; the photo does not do the immensity of the ruin justice. Here’s a short video clip from the church, showing the destruction.
At dinner, I was talking with a guest who lives in Central (and whose house did not flood), and she said that it’s staggering to think of all the people who have lost nearly everything, and will not be able to rebuild because they had no insurance. It’s what’s on a lot of people’s minds down here, still. The dinner guest said, “I don’t understand why you don’t see more about this on the national news. Any dumb thing Trump or some celebrity said, they’re all over it. But there are tens of thousands of people here who have been ruined, and it doesn’t seem like that big a deal.”
All I could do was nod in agreement. I know you readers are tired of hearing it, so I won’t bang on about it. It does make me wonder how many stories from around the nation are undercovered in the same way. If you have any in mind, let’s hear it.
It seems like the Louisiana flooding from the freak rainstorm may have been the seventh “thousand-year” rain event since 2010. According to the story I’ve linked, some meteorologists are wary of saying these events are definitely caused by global warming, but it is possible. The New York Times had a big piece over the weekend showing that in some coastal communities, flooding from rising oceans long predicted by climate scientists is now happening. Excerpts:
The inundation of the coast has begun. The sea has crept up to the point that a high tide and a brisk wind are all it takes to send water pouring into streets and homes.
Federal scientists have documented a sharp jump in this nuisance flooding — often called “sunny-day flooding” — along both the East Coast and the Gulf Coast in recent years. The sea is now so near the brim in many places that they believe the problem is likely to worsen quickly. Shifts in the Pacific Ocean mean that the West Coast, partly spared over the past two decades, may be hit hard, too.
These tidal floods are often just a foot or two deep, but they can stop traffic, swamp basements, damage cars, kill lawns and forests, and poison wells with salt. Moreover, the high seas interfere with the drainage of storm water.
In coastal regions, that compounds the damage from the increasingly heavy rains plaguing the country, like those that recently caused extensive flooding in Louisiana. Scientists say these rains are also a consequence of human greenhouse emissions.
“Once impacts become noticeable, they’re going to be upon you quickly,” said William V. Sweet, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Silver Spring, Md., who is among the leaders in research on coastal inundation. “It’s not a hundred years off — it’s now.”
This summer, on a driving tour of Norfolk [Virginia] and nearby towns, William A. Stiles Jr. pointed to the telltale signs that the ocean is gradually invading the region.
He spotted crusts of dried salt in the streets, and salt-loving marsh grasses that are taking over suburban yards. He pointed out trees killed by seawater. He stood next to one of the road signs that Norfolk has been forced to install in recent years, essentially huge vertical rulers so people know the depth of floodwaters at low-lying intersections.
“There’s just more and more visible impacts: water on the street, water that won’t clear from the ditch, these intense rain events, higher tides,” Mr. Stiles said.
“It’s beginning to catch the attention of citizens, restaurant owners, business people, politicians. There’s just much more of a conversation, and it’s not just in the politically safe places. It’s everywhere.”
Except among House Republicans on Capitol Hill, who forbade the Pentagon from spending taxpayer dollars on building climate resilience (e.g., figuring out how to protect the US Naval Base at Norfolk from rising ocean water).
A Gallup poll taken in May showed that the percentage of Americans concerned about global warming has hit an eight-year high. Only 10 percent of Americans believe that global warming is a hoax.
I wonder what role events like these thousand-year floods are playing, or might yet play, in convincing the public that global warming is real, and a serious threat to them. As far as I know, no one can prove that the freak weather event that caused the recent Louisiana disaster was caused by global warming. But an increase in extreme rainfall episodes are precisely the kind of event that climate scientists say a rapidly warming planet will cause, and are causing (see here too).
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards estimates that the flood caused over $8 billion in damage to the state — a number that is bound to go higher once more data are collected. Excerpt:
Edwards said flood damage has been documented to more than 55,000 houses in Louisiana, and that could double as aid applications and inspections continue. More than 80 percent of damaged homes lacked flood insurance because most were outside the 100-year flood plain. He said initial evaluations show the majority of flooded households were for people with low to moderate incomes, and 20 percent were renters.
More than 6,000 businesses flooded, with more than $2.2 billion in damages to buildings, equipment and inventory, Edwards said. He also said there are “conservative estimates” of more than $110 million in damage to agriculture.
Estimates are that about 30 state roads washed out and 1,400 bridges will need to be inspected, the governor said.
These aren’t just numbers on a page. They represent people. Nearly everyone in my part of the world knows someone hard hit by the flooding. It is hard to express how unnerving it is to drive around your city and see so many areas that no one ever thought were vulnerable to floods damaged. It’s hard to feel secure, knowing that it has happened, and could happen again, without warning. This is the kind of thing that makes a person sit up and take notice.
It’s a small thing, maybe, but in my own case, my wife and I are thinking about buying a house in Baton Rouge in the next year. Suddenly, the housing market here is going to change a great deal, as houses in parts of the city that did not flood become far more desirable, and vice versa. There is no way we could be persuaded to buy a house in a neighborhood that saw water last month. That makes a huge portion of the Baton Rouge housing stock off-limits to us. A real estate agent might say, “But it was a thousand-year flood. It is extremely unlikely to happen again.” Well, maybe. But I’m not willing to make an investment in a house that flooded in this storm, given the scientific data on the warming climate, and the likelihood that extreme rain events like this are going to be more likely for the rest of my life. Maybe I’m too conservative, but that’s not a chance I’m willing to take with my money.
The flood last month, coupled with climate science data and projections, is changing my behavior as a homebuyer. It would not have had I not seen with my own eyes the devastation in areas everybody thought were safe. These are the kinds of calculations most of us will be making, and be forced to make, not just by what we read in the papers, but by what we experience personally.