Tag Archives: hurricanes

Softening Hearts, Hardening Infrastructure, Widening Perspectives

Softening Hearts, Hardening Infrastructure, Widening Perspectives

                                            —by Jinny Batterson

It’s been a rough couple of months here in North Carolina: two hurricanes (Florence, then Michael), a polarized government, widespread agricultural losses, increasing poverty, damaged schools and infrastructure. 

Yet there’s been heartening news as well. Many established charities such as the American Red Cross have sent disaster recovery teams to the worst impacted areas. Local citizens in areas less damaged by the storms have created both short-term and long-term relief efforts. A neighbor who specializes in local fundraising set up a Sunday-afternoon event at a nearby shopping center and raised over $10,000 in cash plus thousands of dollars worth of non-perishable food and household goods for hurricane relief. Because of the extent of the damage, both in the Carolinas and elsewhere, it will take continued efforts by private donors, non-profits, government agencies, and financial institutions to help promote recovery.  The natural environment will never be the same; repairs, rebuilding, and/or relocation of homes and businesses will take months if not years. 

After hurricane Florence decimated the coastal Carolinas, major roads and interstates were flooded and impassable for over a week, making cities such as Wilmington, North Carolina effectively islands.  Residents who’d evacuated were asked not even to try to return home as soon as the first few roads were reopened—what limited road travel was possible needed to be reserved for emergency and supply crews.  Now that the immediate crises are over, people are starting to grapple with longer-term problems: should rebuilding be limited in areas that seem more and more prone to drastic weather?  Should building codes be changed? How do we adapt our infrastructure to be more resilient? Do we need to pursue alternatives to a predominately road-based transportation network?

Simple solutions seem elusive and likely counterproductive. Perhaps we need to rethink some of the implicit assumptions we’ve made about how the world works.  Rather than considering ourselves outside nature, it may be time to widen our perspectives and acknowledge that we humans are just one piece in a complex, evolving whole.  Among the groups that have challenged some of my existing perceptions are:

Transition networks (https://transitionnetwork.org/), a set of local-global initiatives to work toward more resilient local economies in the face of escalating global challenges

Bioneers (https://bioneers.org/), harnessing scientific knowledge toward solving human problems

Biomimicry 3.8 (https://biomimicry.net/), which looks at other life forms (some with over 3.8 billion years of experience on earth) for innovative ways to re-engineer human-made systems

What partial solutions have you discovered?  What “small/local” actions are you taking to make our future more livable?  Please share some of your thoughts. 

Cycling Toward Resilience

Cycling Toward Resilience    —by Jinny Batterson

bicycling for fun–Jinny fords a small stream in New Zealand

September 22, 2017, according to my wall calendar, marks this year’s equinox, ushering in autumn in the northern hemisphere and spring in the southern. It’s the day when the sun’s arc passes directly over the earth’s equator, when day and night are of nearly equal length. It would seem to indicate a sort of balance. For many of us, balance right now is in somewhat short supply.

Broadcast news these days carries stories and images of catastrophic damage to the U.S. Southeast and American territories in the Caribbean from three different hurricanes so far this season. Parts of Texas and Florida, all of Puerto Rico and most of the U.S. Virgin Islands may never again be the same after Harvey, Irma, and Maria. And hurricane season isn’t even over yet. Meanwhile, swaths of eastern North Carolina have yet to recover from last year’s Hurricane Matthew damage. Parts of New Orleans have atrophied since Katrina’s 2005 onslaught. Five years after superstorm Sandy, houses in New York and New Jersey are still boarded up.

Locally, our town is balancing on the cusp of another municipal election, with multiple candidates in each race this time around. Last night I attended a candidate’s forum co-sponsored by  several non-partisan volunteer groups. The crowd was standing room only, the tone civil, the questions and answers thoughtful and generally restrained—no promises to hold the line on taxes, no shirking from admissions that both infrastructure and population in our community are aging, that revenues since the 2008 recession have not kept up with population growth, that we face challenges.  A couple of incumbents emphasized the need to move away from our current high dependence on private vehicles toward a greater use of walking, cycling, and public transit. 

So I got to thinking about bicycles. A pre-hurricane posting to a San Juan, Puerto Rico website extolled the pleasures of bicycling on recently completed trails around that city. One post-hurricane-Maria clip of the initial stirrings of movement in Puerto Rico showed a few bicycles pedaling the still-watery streets among the cars, trucks, and earthmoving machines. 

Bicycles are an efficient means of transportation, especially in relatively flat terrain. Per an Exploratorium website: “In fact cycling is more efficient than any other method of travel–including walking! The one billion bicycles in the world are a testament to its effectiveness.” (see https://www.exploratorium.edu/cycling/humanpower1.html)   

Unfortunately, persuading the world’s more affluent citizens to give up our cars and use bicycles exclusively is probably not practical. Yet in the Texas city of Houston, Hurricane Harvey damaged or destroyed over a million cars. Houston has been one of the nation’s most car-dependent cities, with nearly 95% of households possessing at least one car. We may not be able to coax ourselves out of our car habits entirely and use bikes as our primary means of transportation, but we can at least make cycling more attractive with bike-share programs, good trails and signage, incentives to bike rather than take the car on shorter trips.

As severe weather events impact more and more of our land area, as densely populated urban centers house higher and higher proportions of humanity, many cities are establishing resilience strategies, often with coordinators that reach across traditional departmental boundaries to integrate efforts. Cycling can be a worthwhile part of such strategies. Before the next big storm hits, let’s start cycling toward resilience.

An Ounce of Prevention

An Ounce of Prevention   —by Jinny Batterson

A proverb that was often quoted to me during my teen years has come back to haunt me lately: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Parts of our state are still reeling from the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. Dozens of people have been killed in North Carolina in the flooding that followed the hurricane. Rivers are just starting to go down. Surplus waters pool and eventually flow toward the Atlantic. Several major rivers are still above flood stage, and there’s a possibility of more flood-related fatalities when receding waters uncover submerged vehicles. Some people have had to be evacuated twice, leaving their homes for hotels and other shelters that in turn became flooded. We’ve seen (when our electricity is working) television and Internet footage of tractor trailer trucks floating in several feet of water, of horses submerged up to the neck being led beside inflatable boats to reach higher ground. Major interstates crossing our region have been flooded out, causing lengthy disruptions in travel, or worse. I’m not suggesting that we can prevent hurricanes; I do want to suggest that we will need better preparations to reduce the impact of future storms.    

The October 2016 floods in the U.S. Southeast come on the heels of equally horrendous flooding in the area of Baton Rouge, Louisiana in August, when up to two feet of rainfall inundated the vicinity over the course of two days of a “thousand year flood.” By mid-October, clean-up crews had removed over a million and a half cubic yards of debris from the flooded area. That’s a lot of ounces.

Much of California has been impacted by five years of severe drought.

It’s getting harder to deny that our climate is changing. According to a 2014 report vetted by over 300 scientists, “Over the last 50 years, much of the U.S. has seen increases in prolonged periods of excessively high temperatures, heavy downpours, and in some regions, severe floods and droughts.” Just before the Hurricane Matthew floods, I  watched an interview with a spokesman for Conservation International, Dr. M. Sanjayan, who described a series of narrated short films about the relationship between nature and humanity. He played a two minute clip voiced by Julia Roberts, part of a series at NatureIsSpeaking.org. Over a backdrop of some of the earth’s natural wonders, Roberts intoned: “Some call me nature, others call me Mother Nature. I’ve been here for over four and a half billion years, 22,500 times longer than you. I don’t really need people, but people need me…”

Not all of us have as high a profile as the media stars in the Nature Is Speaking videos. Not all of us can persuasively argue for the public policy changes needed to slow, though not stop, many harmful effects of our changing climate. But each of us breathes and eats, sleeps and wakes, uses part of the earth’s resources. We can exercise our ounce of prevention. We can be more active in pursuing the “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra. We can vet our purchases for environmental impact and make wiser choices. We can act individually and/or join with neighbors to retrofit existing properties and communities to be more environmentally friendly, wherever we live. We can participate in litter pick-ups and stream clean-ups to reduce the amount of trash going into our oceans. We can become informed, and keep up with the latest climate and weather warnings.

Ms. Roberts ends her narration with a challenge and a question:  “How you choose to live each day, whether you regard or disregard me doesn’t really matter to me. One way or the other, your actions will determine your fate, not mine. I am nature. I will go on. I am prepared to evolve.  Are you?”