Volume 31 Number 1
When a February ice storm caused the south side of our street to go cold and dark, 12 people ended up in my small house on the north side, five adults and seven children who needed a place to stay warm for the night.
We were an instant suburban commune. One adult ventured back to frigid houses to gather blankets, sleeping bags, and pillows; another organized an activity for the kids. I made up beds on floors and in the basement. We doled out mats and comforters, then I lay down beside two 5 year olds and tried to sing them to sleep.
At 1 a.m., a two-year-old downstairs woke with an ear infection. By 3 a.m. his father, my scientist-neighbor, struck out for his house, wearing a headlamp, braving the ice for baby Tylenol. Near dawn, one of the five-year-olds woke and wriggled down beside me.
Soon, the house’s breathing grew lighter, and we gathered, bleary-eyed, in the kitchen. We were finishing a giant pancake breakfast when a 10-year-old near the window shouted that the power was back.
I thought about that winter storm this spring, when earthquakes, tornadoes, deluges, and 100-year floods struck the Midwest.
The scientific evidence is conclusive, unequivocal. Dramatic climate changes — our present-day storms, floods, and more — are linked to global warming, and that global warming is occurring because of us.
According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared the 2007 Nobel Prize with Al Gore, “human influences,” mainly CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels, have contributed to sharp sea-level rise, changed wind patterns that spur tropical storms, and increased temperatures, enlarging the risk of heat waves, persistent drought, and torrential precipitation.
The future scope of climate change is ours to determine. I’m not often optimistic about the decisions we’ll make, but the ice storm offered a glimmer of a positive effect from global warming—it may give us another chance to rediscover what it means to depend on each other.
In April, avalanches took out the hydroelectric power for most of the city of Juneau, Alaska. According to an Associated Press story, electrical usage in the town dropped by as much as 30 percent within a week, in part because people cooked for neighbors on wood stoves in their living rooms and dined with friends by candlelight.
Recommitment to community may rescue the planet and ourselves. At the least, it’s a balm. When my ice-storm refugees bundled up to go home, I only feigned relief.