Coming floods |

Coming floods

Paul Andersen
Aspen CO, Colorado

A trailer park in Basalt and the low-lying coastal regions of the world have something in common: the threat of flooding. The trailer park is threatened by the Roaring Fork River. Coastal regions of the world are threatened by global warming.

The Roaring Fork River is susceptible to epic flooding. This year could be one of those epic years. Coastal regions are facing inundation from rising oceans, and that threat is growing imminent.

In Basalt, we know that the deep snowpack in the high mountains is far above normal. Cool weather and spring snowfall have delayed the run-off until summertime heat could unleash it in a torrent.

Globally, we know that glaciers and polar ice caps are melting. As global warming accelerates, so does the threat to low-lying coastal regions where an unremitting flood would force the evacuation of environmental refugees.

The trailer park in Basalt was built for affordable housing and was located in an obvious flood plain. The residents there have dodged disaster through numerous run-off seasons. Their only protection; an earthen dike.

Threatened coastal regions are heavily populated because of soil fertility and access to the sea. Farmers and fishermen have lived there for millennia and only now are beginning to realize that the sea could rise up and swallow them and their farmland. They have no protection.

Residents at the Basalt trailer park can see the river flowing past. They can watch it rise in the spring. They know about the big snowpack and they can judge the severity of the threat. They can plan and prepare for a flood.

Poor people of the coastal regions have only a vague understanding of the pending flood and the source of it. They cannot see the melting glaciers or the polar ice caps. They cannot predict how far or fast the waters will rise.

Whether Basalt or Bangladesh, flood-threatened people are at the mercy of larger forces. They might have nowhere to go if the water rises. Basalt residents may again dodge the threat, but the people of the coastal regions may not be so lucky. Over time, flooding there seems inevitable.

Residents at the Basalt trailer park number in the hundreds. Threatened coastal residents number in the tens of millions. The difference in scale is enormous, and it’s clear that coastal flooding will bear global implications of social unrest, disease, and privation that could make the China earthquake and the Burma typhoon pale by comparison.

The Basalt community will do everything it can to prevent flooding of the trailer park. Local governments will enact protective measures and, in the future, better evaluate site selection for development near the river.

As a community, however, we fail to be equally proactive for the millions of people in the coastal regions whose threat is, in part, a result of the way we live. Our industries, lifestyles, and consumer choices have been steadily increasing that threat, not reducing it.

Our inaction on climate change is akin to lowering the dike at the trailer park and watching the waters rise. We are willing to act locally for a few hundred, but not globally for tens of millions. We need that global vision if we are to become responsible global residents.

The river will rise, just as the oceans will rise. And the river will fall, but not the oceans. They will continue to rise. As long as we ignore our role in climate change, there will be a pending flood. Filling sandbags and mopping up afterwards is no solution. We must move beyond the symptoms and confront the causes.