Climate Column: Floods
From Katya Gordon
If you're like me, you've been hearing about climate change for years, and you've acquired a sense of foreboding. What exactly is coming? It's almost refreshing to know that the realities of climate change are beginning to be felt and recorded in clear-cut terms. For instance, we know that climate change is changing the nature of our precipitation in Minnesota. Overall, our precipitation levels are slowly rising. More importantly, it is coming in localized, heavy events, otherwise known as "rain events." As for extra big rain events, we call those "floods." Minnesota has seen a 31 percent increase in heavy rain events since the 1950s. We got our share with our so-called 500-year Duluth flood of June 2012. Even those designations are uncertain now, as southern Minnesota experienced three 1000-year events in just the last decade.
Floods are wet, and too much water is wildly inconvenient to our health. Lots of nasty organisms thrive in wet or moist conditions — basement mold, pollens and bacteria. Respiratory and allergic conditions can be the result. Drinking water gets contaminated, which leads to water-borne illnesses. Farmers are dramatically affected by floods -- crops can drown, seeds need to be replanted and soil can be too wet for plants to grow.
Floods are also expensive. Rising homeowners' insurance premiums are not limited to the coastal states. Minnesota homeowners used to be 45th in the nation for premium costs; in recent years, we have jumped to 15th. When insurance companies can't pay any more, or when areas are declared a federal disaster area and the Federal Emergency Management Agencymsteps in, guess who pays then? The taxpayers. One way or another, we all pay for climate change. The sometimes daunting short-term cost of lowering our personal and collective carbon footprint and of transforming our energy to more renewable sources must always be weighed against the rising cost of doing nothing.
Now, anybody who knows me personally surely knows that I am not the doom-and-gloom type. Why write about all these difficult things? Well ... a cheerful, hopeful outlook on life — not to be confused with superficial gaiety — must come from a clear understanding of reality, combined with a focus on what is good or what can be done. For us to take the necessary steps to slow or stop climate change, we must first understand what it is and how it is impacting us every day. Concrete details give us all the motivation we need to acknowledge and adapt to changing conditions around us. Lowering your family's carbon footprint is a good start. If there was ever a good reason to turn down the heat at night and pull up the blankets, to pull the bike out of storage or to go to the farmers market, the changing climate is it.