Though I’m a scientist, accustomed to statistics and hard facts, I’m increasingly unsettled by the extreme weather events we experience so much these days. The increases in heavy rainstorms, floods, and droughts that climate scientists have long projected would accompany the build up of carbon pollution in our atmosphere is worrisome. Many people are connecting the dots more and more between these extreme events and climate change, even as some politicians deny its existence and others doubt their ability to do anything about it. Far from it.
I’m glad that 350.org, the international climate activist group, is organizing its first-ever International Climate Impact Day this Saturday, May 5th. Events in more than 100 countries, including at least 425 here in the US, will draw attention to the increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather. To find, plan or list an event, visit www.climatedots.org.
In the US, we know extreme weather events all too well. Last year, the 14 biggest of them cost our economy an estimated $53 billion in damage, many repairs paid for with taxpayer dollars. The unprecedented 3,251 monthly extreme weather records broken last year shows us that every community is vulnerable to the worst effects of climate change. NRDC’s extreme weather mapping tool can help you find out how extreme weather impacts your community. By documenting incidents throughout the country and offering advice on how individuals, families, and local and state governments can prepare for weather disasters, the map is a call for climate preparedness.
For me, watching Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee decimate many of New York State’s farmers last summer hit very close to home.
I grew up in upstate NY, and the story of farmers devastated by Irene and Lee moved me immediately; and soon after, the storms made the headlines. But the stories aren’t over -- we cannot forget that those impacts are still felt. I recently asked myself, how are farmers faring with the long-term impacts of these extreme weather events, in their communities -- and on our food supply?
What I discovered was both sobering and inspiring. In New York State, lives were radically altered. Agriculture here is a $4.5 billion industry, and the two storms caused $73 million in damages.But many farmers’ resolve was unbowed. In hard-hit Schoharie County, the Lloyd family-— dairy farmers since 1974 -— lost 47 animals, many of them young calves too small to fend for themselves when flood waters rose. The Lloyds lost more than a year’s worth of feed crops and at least 20 percent of their yearly income. Nevertheless, Denise Lloyd, who farms with her husband and two grown sons, feels grateful. “Fortunately, no human life was lost. And our sons still want to farm,” she told NRDC. Fifty volunteers helped the family dig out from the floods. Neighbors took in the family’s cows. Though the farmer next door sold his dairy herd the day after Irene landed, and the community was hard hit. “I try to look at things positively,” Lloyd told us. “We are all here and our business is moving again.”
Cheryl Rogowski of Orange County lost more than half her family’s 150 acres of vegetables on their farm in the storms — potatoes, melons, tomatoes, herbs. “A significant portion of our income for the year was lost,” she says. She had to lay off much of her staff of more than 30 people. But her community and her remaining staff pulled together. After the storm, she planted more crops in unheated greenhouses to get through the fall. Her neighbors organized fundraisers that collected more than $100,000 for the town’s 40 affected farmers. (Like many of those impacted by the storm, Rogowski had no crop insurance; it’s particularly hard to get for vegetable growers.)
Cheryl Huber, assistant director of New York City’s farmers market network, GrowNYC, said, “the good thing about farming is that every spring you get the chance to start fresh.”
That’s what 350.org’s Connect the Dots events allow us to do, too – to start meaningful conversations about climate change with our neighbors, policy makers, business leaders and elected officials. And to connect with others to make real and lasting changes happen. Hope to see you at one of the Connect the Dot events!