Five months ago, coastal North Carolina residents sat in the crosshairs of a monster storm. Some 43 people died during and immediately after Hurricane Florence, which left $17 billion in damage. Hurricane Michael followed one month later. Three people died and millions more in damage resulted.
Wilmington and many other affected communities have not fully recovered. Water damage remediation equipment churns 24-hours a day outside the 100-year-old Alton Lennon Federal Courthouse, closed indefinitely. Blue tarps dot the rooftops of apartment buildings, businesses and churches awaiting roofing crews. Power saws drone in neighborhoods where gutted homes undergo repairs. Hurricane season returns June 1, and with it the threat of new storms.
Gov. Roy Cooper testified on Feb. 6before the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, to the increasingly powerful and erratic storms that have hit North Carolina in recent years. He cited the two, 500-year floods experienced in two years, and three in fewer than 20 years. Cooper described mudslides in the mountains that have damaged apple orchards and ski areas, record heat in the Piedmont that has killed poultry and damaged crops, and wildfire and flooding risks to Fort Bragg and the Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point.
The worst of the damage, however, has occurred in Eastern North Carolina, which faces the prospect of more storms and floods, he said. Two years after Hurricane Michael hit, Hurricane Florence “decimated coastal communities and crushed coastal tourism and fisheries.” As Florence pounded the coast for days with punishing winds, it dropped trillions of gallons of rain. Communities went under water under historic flood levels, livestock and crops drowned.
Cooper told the committee, conducting month-long climate hearings, about steps taken in North Carolina to respond, with a new North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency to administer federal block grants to fund disaster recovery and plans to develop and implement strategies to protect the state from future storms. He discussed the North Carolina Flood Inundation Mapping and Alert Network that will identify areas facing the most risk during disasters and the safest places to rebuild.
“But when storms are becoming more destructive, it’s not enough to pick up the pieces,” he said. “We must take action to prevent this kind of devastation in the future. I urge this Congress and all our federal partners to match the same level of determination brought to disaster recovery in our fight to reduce the effects of climate change.”
Cooper got the ball rolling at the state level last year, with an executive order to achieve a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in North Carolina by 2025. This includes increased state building efficiency and 80,000 zero-emission vehicles on the road. But states and researchers rely on federal funds to pay for scientific research and drive innovation “that can help solve our climate crisis,” he said. Federal legislation and regulation will further protect the state, plus government leadership to work on a global level to effect international solutions.
TheGreen New Dealresolution proposed Feb. 7 by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (Mass.), is a beginning. It offers a framework for the kind of bold environmental change needed to combat the devastating effects of global warming.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrationrecently reported that 247 people died in 14 weather and climate disasters last year, with greater than $1 billion in losses from each event. Since 1980, there have been 241 weather and climate disasters in the United States, each with at least $1 billion in overall damages and costs. Total costs came to $1.6 trillion. In North Carolina so far, the storms exacted a price to be paid: more than $1 billion in state and federal funds for recovery efforts, and counting.
How do we move forward?
- Government legislation and policy can either curtail or fuel climate change on a major scale, from the greenhouse emissions permitted by industry to the decision on whether there is a bus route serving your neighborhood. Call and write local, state and federal representatives to advocate for action. Attend town halls and other public meetings so the urgency of climate change remains top of mind for those who represent you. Consider a run for public office yourself.
- Perform an inventory of your home and an honest assessment of your life choices. From reducing the amount of red meat you consume to installing solar panels on your house, there are things you can do. Here is ahandy calculatorfrom the Nature Conservancy that can guide you on steps to take to reduce your carbon footprint.
While the state continues post-disaster recovery, we must remember that the next big hurricane, fire or flood will cost more lives and destroy property. This is a fight for the future.