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Craven: Irene And The Historical Moment

08/20/12 7:55AM By Jay Craven
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Photo: Todd Lockwood
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.

People 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.

The 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.

It's 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 rain.

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 sustainable future?

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