Earlier this Summer, more than 10,000 people in my hometown of Minot, North Dakota were given 48 hours notice to evacuate from the impending flooding of the Souris River. When the river swelled over the levies, thousands of homes and businesses were swamped with record-breaking flood waters. Families were left homeless and jobs vanished as houses and businesses disappeared underwater. Now, with the water finally receded, people return to scenes of devastation and attempt to return to life in a city that now looks like a war zone, packed with ruined buildings and heaps of debris. It will be many months before all the damage is repaired.
I’ve worked for years on passing legislation to prevent climate change by cutting pollution and moving toward a clean energy economy; the threat of natural disasters like flooding, forest fires, and droughts resulting from a warming planet had always motivated me to work on the issue. Seeing the incredible damage visited on the city that I was born and raised in has been a shocking reminder for me about the suffering and loss that results from these kinds of disasters. The type of horror visited on my home town will continue to rock communities across the world, in the form of climate-induced disasters. Just this Summer, we’ve seen a rash of tornadoes, wildfires, and heat waves. As the planet warms, frequency and severity of natural disasters will continue to rise.
The National Wildlife Federation’s 2009 report Increased Flooding Risk: Global Warming’s Wake-Up Call for Riverfront Communities describes how flooding results from warmer temperatures. Heavy rainfall, rain-on-snow weather, shifts in snowpack and snowfall, earlier Springs, and ice jams all result from climate change and increase the risk of flooding. Warmer temperatures in the winter can result in moist air from the South drifting North, where cold temperatures freeze the water vapor into massive snowfalls; these snows turn into spring floods. The report specifically mentions how ice jams contributed to the 2009 flooding of the Red River, which runs through Fargo and Grand Forks. I don’t claim to directly attribute Minot's flood to climate change because I don't have enough data, but it appears that factors like a fast thaw and heavy snowpack contributed to the flood. Regardless of how big a role climate change played in this specific disaster, whats clear is that climate change will continue to cause catastrophes.
Though many have been left homeless, jobless, and penniless, the strength of Minot’s community efforts in the face of adversity is inspiring. From the initial volunteering to build levees that saved some neighborhoods to the offering up of beds to sleep in during the evacuation to the help rebuilding and restoring of areas ravaged by flood waters, Minotians worked together throughout the entire excruciating process. Currently, Minot is leading Coca-Cola’s Think Positive vote-off for a grant to restore Oak Park (an impressive feat in a city where many are in temporary housing and without internet).
These friends and neighbors who came together to face the challenge of a flood give me hope that we can come together as a country, a world, a people, to prevent the global threat of climate change. We can harness the power of the wind and the sun to create clean energy. We can upgrade our homes, businesses, and infrastructure to use less energy. Government, industry, individuals, we can all work together to reduce the pollution that leads to disasters.My hope is that this incident and others like it will serve as a catalyst to motivate you to take action. With perserverance and hard work, we can come up with solutions to prevent disasters and save society from the untold devastation that climate change will continue to cause.