Date: 2021-09-11 11:37:30
Hurricane Ida was a nonevent for Florida, but for other parts of the nation it was quite another matter.
Among the most powerful hurricanes to ever make landfall in the United States, Ida wreaked havoc from the Louisiana coast to New England. The storm could cost an estimated $95 billion, which is an astronomical number. But what cannot be calculated is the human cost.
Lives lost, of course, is the most devastating statistic, with some 60 souls confirmed dead across eight states. But there are other costs as well. In Louisiana, a place I know well, whole communities are not there anymore. These are places where residents for generations have doggedly survived storm after storm building back higher and higher hoping to escape the flood waters. They have lost or are losing the battle.
It is becoming clear that living near the coast is a calculated danger, yet its attractions continue to beckon new residents. Even for those far inland, Hurricane Ida’s lesson was that nowhere is safe. Heavy rains and tornadoes caused deaths and damage throughout the southeast and middle Atlantic states.
And it doesn’t have to be a storm to cause devastating flooding as sea level rise is inundating places like Miami Beach. Even without the destruction of a Katrina or an Ida – both of which share Aug. 29 as their arrival date – Louisiana is a cautionary tale about the sea’s power to take back land that humankind has long called home.
For the 25 years I lived in South Louisiana, people talked about land loss and the saltwater that was killing the vegetation that held the fragile soil in place. Some of the blame was placed on the pipeline canals built to bring oil from offshore drilling rigs to refineries. Some was placed on efforts to corral the Mississippi River into a predictable channel – eliminating the sediment that had built up the land in the first place.
But in recent years there has been the realization that a warmer climate has increased the intensity of storms of all kinds, making an already dangerous situation much worse. Is this the wake-up call we’ve been needing to make changes? To continue down the same path is unsustainable; to ignore the influence of climate change is flirting with disaster time and time again.
So what do we do?
First, we recognize the danger for what it is. Reacting to the devastation that Hurricane Ida inflicted on his city, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio put it well when he said, “We have to change our entire mindset because we’re being dealt a very different hand of cards now.”
Some who live along the Gulf Coast would say it’s about time others recognized the dangers of climate change. Maybe a state like Louisiana has a hard time getting the attention of the nation; New York City, however, is another matter.
Here in Florida it is time to acknowledge our role in addressing climate change – and to make some changes of our own. We should be devoting our attention to supporting solar power, conserving valuable resources and embracing new technology that relies less on fossil fuels for transportation.
At the same time, taking steps to be better prepared for the inevitable big storms of the future is a prudent choice. Storm protection measures like improved levees and flood walls in the New Orleans area, built at a cost of some $15 billion, held against Hurricane Ida. That’s a strong test – but by no means the last one.
These measures come at a cost but the price of doing nothing will definitely be much greater. We do not need another warning. In fact, we may not get one. Hurricane season 2021 will be with us for nearly three more months and there is always next year. The call to action is clear.
Kathy Silverberg is former publisher of the Herald-Tribune’s southern editions. She can be reached at email@example.com or followed on Twitter @kdsilver.