Last month, Colorado was suddenly and tragically stricken with a devastating flood. The flood was the most serious in living memory and it affected nearly every city in the Denver Metro area and eastern Colorado. Our hometown of Boulder received more than 20” of rain in total over a five day period, more than we receive in an average year.
The flood claimed eight lives, damaged or destroyed nearly 20,000 homes, and impacted more than 1,000 Colorado businesses. Residents of remote mountain towns were completely isolated by partial or total destruction of the mountain highways that follow the path of one of the state’s many creeks or rivers. In total, 1,500 square miles of roads were damaged, to the tune of $475 million. Nearly 10,000 people and animals were evacuated, including 2,200 that were rescued by National Guard and Red Cross helicopters, the largest air evacuation of its kind since Hurricane Katrina.
We at Renewable Choice were very fortunate. Although the parking lot of our building was completely underwater for several days, our offices suffered no damage. No one in our office lost our homes, although several of our staff members sustained considerable water impact in their basements. A few of us were more personally affected, as family members and friends were evacuated, or, in more devastating ways, lost homes and safety.
The view from our office after 2+ days of torrential rain
Now, more than a month later, the flood seems surreal, were it not for the ongoing efforts all around us to return to normal (our flooded parking lot is still covered with mud, and crews are here daily trying to repair the damage). For the time being, most of us can return to our lives and routines, the massive impact of this event a mere memory.
However, what we can’t ignore is the unusual and destructive nature of the flooding. The weather and the resultant flooding were both aided and abetted by the results of climate change, including higher precipitation levels in the air, drought conditions across the state, and damaged forests impacted by beetle kill. What we now call 1,000 year events could become the norm as climate change continues unabated.
“The Sky is Falling!”
Remember that story of Chicken Little? The poor guy knew that disaster was afoot, but no one was listening, to disastrous affect. That’s often how I feel these days, shouting at the top of my lungs that climate change is threatening our species—and every other on this planet—but not feeling like anyone can hear what I’m saying. Noise among more urgent and immediate concerns such as the government shutdown, economic recovery, and whether we should wage war in Syria, reports such as the recent International Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Summary for Policymakers have gone largely unnoticed and unaddressed.
In the report, the IPCC finds nearly unequivocally that humans are the cause of climate change and that, in fact, climate change is advancing at a rapid and potentially irreversible rate. Earlier predictions made in the 4th version of the report have been found to be too conservative; catastrophic effects as a result of climate change are now anticipated to occur much earlier. These changes, some of which may be to blame for the Colorado floods, include sea level rise, loss of the Arctic ice sheet, drought in dry areas and increased precipitation in wet ones, weather changes as a result of ocean circulation weakening, and ocean acidity.
On the heels of the IPCC report, scientists at the University of Hawaii Manoa released a study indicating that temperatures around the globe will increase to a noticeable degree by 2047. These temperature changes are expected to impact tropical areas first, and earlier, placing enormous strain on the billions of people living in these climes and the fragile ecosystems and forests that also inhabit these areas. What that means is that climate change realities—higher temperatures, weather patterns, and extreme weather events—will happen in our lifetimes.
It Comes Down to Us
Petty partisan politics and the influence of big business have kept the U.S. from adopting widespread and significant climate legislation, but individuals and companies are acting nonetheless. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that businesses participating in their Green Power Partnership program have swelled to more than 1,500, including some of the largest companies in the U.S.
As horrendous as extreme weather events are, they serve two critical purposes: to heighten sensitivity to the impacts of climate change (hence changing behavior) and to bring communities together. The people of Colorado have rallied to support their neighbors, donating money, goods, and time to aid in the Colorado clean-up effort.
In our own offices, we experienced this sense of shared humanity when family members of our staff were directly impacted by the flooding. As a team, and a company, we came together to help this family by providing shelter, phones, clothes, shoes, computers, and a vehicle when they had lost everything. In an emergency, we took care of each other, as a company and a community, and that is a shared sense of survival that will not soon be taken for granted or lost.
Perhaps most importantly, we continue our work of educating and partnering with leading companies to help them address sustainability. Our collective belief that we can make a difference has never wavered, and we invite everyone to use extreme weather events like the Colorado flood to catalyze a shift in your thinking and your behavior. The solution rests with us.