Before writing another word I want to thank all of you who have reached out to me through my website, on Facebook, Twitter, and by email to check on my status during the horrific Colorado floods of last week. At this writing, over 12,000 people have been evacuated, nearly 18,000 homes destroyed or damaged, 5 confirmed dead, and hundreds more missing. I consider myself extraordinarily blessed not to have been harmed or have experienced any damage to my home; however, all around me in every direction is devastation—evacuated families, schools closed, and people who still cannot return to their workplaces.
My second “must-say” is that I love living in Boulder. During the past four years of living here, I have marveled not only at the beauty all around me, but the warmth of Coloradans; the ecological sensibilities of this town; its commitment to local, organic food; its emphasis on exercise and outdoor living; and overall, the quality of life that Boulder offers. I’ve deeply appreciated my association with Boulder’s Local Food Shift (formerly Transition Colorado). I’m also privileged to be part of a Growing Resilience group which focuses on emotional and spiritual preparation for a uncertain future.
Thus, my love of my local place causes great pain when for example last year, so much of Colorado was devastated by raging wildfires that persisted for weeks on end, and of course, I am even more saddened as I write these words by the deluge that rocked our state this past week. I have lived in the American West for more than 40 years having landed in Colorado in 1972 before moving on to California in 1978. Later I lived for many years in New Mexico, and then had the opportunity to live for one year in Vermont. Like many readers, I have contemplated where the best locations might be for hunkering down and building strong resilience for the future. I now realize that there is no “safe” place in which to do this, nor is there any place on earth untouched by climate chaos.
The Bolder Boulder
Yet another asset offered by Boulder is that it is Ground Zero for climate research. It is home to NOAA, The National Center For Atmospheric Research and The University Corporation For Atmospheric Research. Since an enormous amount of climate research originates in Boulder, not surprisingly, Boulder residents may be more aware of catastrophic climate change than residents of other cities, but I am not particularly optimistic about this awareness. So far, most of the conversation here about climate change ends with references to Bill McKibben and 350.org. For me, McKibben’s efforts miss the mark because he fails to grasp the larger picture. In recent years, I have come to concur with Guy McPherson, former Professor of Natural Resources, Ecology, and Evolutionary Biology that “350.org is a joke and is disingenuous.” Within the past two years, McPherson has collaborated some of the finest research available on climate change and disseminated it through his blog and a host of public appearances. (One of those appearances will happen October 16 in Boulder at the University of Colorado.)
As I sit in the aftermath of last year’s vehement wildfires in Colorado and this year’s unprecedented flooding, I feel increasingly saddened but less surprised by both natural disasters.
Meteorologist, Eric Holthaus, explains the climate weather pattern that produced the flooding:
Here’s how it happened: A blocking pattern has set up over the western United States, drawing a conveyor belt of tropical moisture north from coastal Mexico. Blocking patterns form when the jet stream slows to a crawl, and weather patterns get stuck in place. When all that warm, wet air hit the Rocky Mountains, it had nowhere to go but up, pushed further skyward by the mountains themselves. By some measurements, the atmosphere at the time of the heaviest rains was the among most soaked it has ever been in Colorado.
What is more, Holthaus asserts, it will keep happening:
Blocking patterns are fertile ground for extreme weather. A blocking pattern near Greenland was also to blame for steering Superstorm Sandy toward the east coast of the United States last fall. Persistent high pressure this year in the western United States has led to what is (so far) California’s driest year on record. That, in turn, fueled last month’s massive Rim Fire in Yosemite National Park, which grew to a size larger than New York City.
The Collapse Of Industrial Civilization
Many readers are aware of my writing during the past six years on the collapse of industrial civilization. Some would prefer that I use the term “Transition” or “The Great Turning” or some other nomenclature. However, as I have written elsewhere on a number of occasions, I believe it is important to clearly assess where we are in present time. The infrastructures of both nations and old paradigms are rapidly unraveling. At some point we may look in the mirror and be able to accurately name a particular date when a “great turning” was complete or when the myriad transitions that are now occurring have come to an end. Nevertheless, in the early stages of the transition/turning, it is important to notice the unraveling and name it as such. The accoutrements of industrial civilization are collapsing, unraveling, disintegrating, as are the values that have held it in place for more than 300 years.
Catastrophic climate change is a fundamental aspect of collapse. Alongside economic meltdown and energy depletion, climate change may be the 800-pound gorilla that expedites the demise of the current money system and a civilization run by fossil fuels. But more urgently appalling is the reality that it accounts for the extinction of 200 species per day. According to the Nature Conservancy, climate change is also exacerbating health risks throughout the world.
The collapse of industrial civilization is a process, not a singular event. Rather it is a host of events, some dramatic like wildfires, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, and droughts, and other events that are barely perceptible. It does not look like Hollywood blockbuster sagas such as “Independence Day” or “The Day After Tomorrow.”
Thus, as I process the natural disasters Colorado has experienced in the past two years, I am saddened by the attitude of some Boulder residents who argue that these events could not be indicative of a total unraveling of industrial civilization. It is no secret that Boulder is a bubble, that is, an affluent, upscale, politically liberal community in which some individuals take pride in the swelling of their portfolios and swoon over every progressive Democratic candidate running for office. In such a milieu, one does not utter the “C” (collapse word) without expecting happy-talk-laden pushback.
To its credit Boulder is the home of a number of activists who are vehemently opposing fracking in all of Colorado and especially in Boulder County. Likewise, a strong movement exists here to create a publicly-owned power and utility company which would transition over time from coal and natural gas to solar energy.
Nevertheless, Boulder must begin to grapple with long-term climate chaos. The so-called “100-year flood” of this past week may happen again in another month. Additionally, Boulder must confront the larger picture of industrial civilization’s collapse and all of the implications for Colorado and the local community. What we have experienced in the past seven days is not a dress rehearsal. We are in the throes of catastrophic climate change and the total unraveling of life as we have known it. Look around you Boulder. This is what collapse looks like.
During the past week many people were unable to go to work, schools were closed, and life in Boulder on many levels came to a standstill. In some stores groups of people gathered and shared with each other the details of their situations. There was a palpable feeling of camaraderie, neighbors helping neighbors, and the sense that we were all in it together. We all slowed down and breathed together as flood waters rose and relentless rains refused to stop.
It may be that the gift in this painful devastation is an awakening to our predicament and a willingness to call it what it is. We no longer inhabit a bubble. We are living the same heartbreak as the Oklahoma citizen who just had his mobile home swept away by a tornado or the bankrupt farmer who can no longer plant crops on land that has become yet another dustbowl. The only bubbles now are those floating on top of what the media has been calling ‘biblical’ flood waters. The playing field has been leveled, along with our homes, and all dress rehearsals are over.