I’d heard the warnings about Tropical Storm Irene, and I was due to
address incoming Marlboro College freshmen on Sunday morning, the
predicted time of the heaviest rain. I wanted to make sure I’d get
there, so I drove south Saturday night and stayed in Brattleboro. On
Sunday I drove my small car up Route 9 through a fast-moving torrent
coming straight at me. I barely made it to the college. A half-hour
later, these waters became a torpedo, shredding asphalt along my route.
all over the state endured devastating outcomes. The Agency of Natural
Resources reports that 225 towns were affected. 500 miles of state
roads, 2000 segments of town roads, and 480 bridges were damaged. 13
towns were stranded. More than 7,000 families reported serious loss.
Forests, farms, streams, rivers, plants, insects, fish, wildlife, and
food chains were destabilized.
Six Vermonters were killed by Irene – and damage exceeded $800 million.
big story out of Vermont – immediately – was the remarkable community
response, as heroic neighbors and even strangers reached out to help
each other. I was unable to leave Marlboro and was taken in by friends
who gave me their bicycle to ride over washed-out roads the next day –
to meet my son and take him to his first day of college.
now a year later – and I continue to be amazed by Vermonters’ generosity
and faith – in each other, ourselves, and our communities. I also see
how the material damage from Irene has heavily taxed our ability to
fully respond. Because recovery is ongoing, and in some cases funds are
simply not available to support it.
Irene was devastating – but
intense weather is increasing and ongoing. My dirt road here in Peacham
now requires reconstruction several times a year – with wider culverts
and even granite now added to the mix – to better withstand torrential
A recent scientific study reported in the New York Times
outlines how ferocious storms are now sending water so high into the
stratosphere that it’s interacting with residual CFC’s and other
chemicals – to unexpectedly and dangerously thin the ozone layer. This
summer, drought, fire, intense storms, and extreme heat have plagued
most of our nation. Yet, strangely, discussion about climate change is
missing – even in the presidential campaign. Is our political system so
paralyzed that leaders can’t recognize the historical moment and unite
for the common good?
In the face of changes to our natural
world, we will continue to pull together – and there will be costs to
how we live. But we must also press urgently ahead. Because even if
there were no climate change, with its many threats to our collective
equilibrium, wouldn’t fast trains, solar heat and electricity, robust
local agriculture, and big gains in energy efficiency – wouldn’t all
these enhance our confidence, conviction, and faith in a prosperous and