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Build An Ark

Floods are not new. Growing up on the East Coast I'm no stranger to volumes and volumes of water pouring through our streets and into our homes, especially in hurricane season. From mid-summer to early fall from Boston to Miami the impending threat of hurricane looms. It is not if, but when.

Last week's most recent episode, Hurricane Ida, was particularly brutal. At least 25 people in New Jersey drowned. But the property damage, I'm sure, is still being calculated. And while this not a new affront, it is fresh.

These types of events tend to leave everyone with a personal anecdote, somehow everyone is connected to it. So and so's house flooded, my friend's car was under water, my brother-in-law's basement refrigerator floated away. So we tell our stories and we listen to other people's stories and then we exchange a few "I'm sorry's" and "That's too bad's". Then we pick up the pieces. We throw out the old photographs and water-logged furniture, the baby clothes, the Christmas decorations, the flannel sheets that go on the bed in November and we move on. Many times we just buy more junk to fill the space of the old junk; the wheel of American consumerism turning another revolution.

But floods are not new. Cultures from around the world like the Sumerians, Aztecs, Greeks, Chinese, Aborigines, Ojibwe and Chippewa all told stories about floods. And also that guy with the ark. Their morals or metaphors vary somewhat but usually it has to do with an angry deity or some sort of fresh start needed. The deity is unhappy with how the mortals live their lives and so he hits the reset button on the whole thing by washing everyone away. These last few events seem eerily apropros and on brand.

Water is a particularly interesting method for destruction. It is essential to life, it is fundamental to everything deemed alive on this planet. It powers our lights, it washes our bodies, it makes up most of the stuff that we are. And yet, it is a god in it's own right. It can drown, flood, saturate, dilute, and generally destroy anything Earthly given enough time and volume. Water falls into that fun category of neither bad nor good, but just is.

Driving around North Jersey after the last hurricane didn't show much of the scarification that other storms like Sandy or Irene or Floyd did. On the surface, it seemed that as soon as the waters receded things got back to pretty much normal. But a second look is warranted to see the impact. You can see dirt caked on a chainlink fence five feet high, the high water mark. You can see pebbles and dirt and dust caked on sidewalks and streets that are now bone dry. You can see the seemingly endless piles of junk, junk that was once the possessions of people but now is too water logged to be anything but garbage.

It's in those piles of junk that the psychological damage can be seen. In those piles of faded pictures of lost relatives, hand-me-down baby clothes, trophies, video tapes, heirloom furniture, and miscellaneous bric-à-brac are the histories of people. And while possessions come and go and things aren't only things, they are more. They can mean more. Why else would we visit museums? And so family histories told through artifacts are blotted out, forgotten, thrown away like junk.

But water as a destructive force is not new. Floods are not new. People losing everything is not new. What's new is the frequency of these events. No doubt it is spurred by climate change. Forget polar bears and electric cars for a second. If nothing else a warmer climate holds more moisture in the air. More moisture means more rain. More rain means more floods. I could go into the sea levels or melting ice caps or carbon expenditure or how Miami Beach floods on sunny days. I won't. All I will say is that listening to someone over fifty say something along the lines of, "I don't remember it being this bad," or, "It never used to happen like this," tells you what you need to know. There is a problem - a problem that has been defined by the brightest of us - and it will take an all hands on deck approach to stem the tide (no pun intended).

The climate issue is a humanitarian issue, it is a race issue, it is an inequity issue, it is a food issue, it is a security issue, it is the issue. It is fundamental to so many things from growing seasons for our food to where we live.

I live in the Northeast and so my experience is hyper-localized. While I like to imagine myself as able to empathize with Louisiana, I cannot. I watched Hurricane Katrina on T.V. I watched the Camp Fire in California on Instagram. Perhaps if these things touch enough people then there will be meaningful action. Then again, the people these events touch the most are the most vulnerable, the most powerless. There are many people who's family artifacts are tucked neatly into water-tight homes or storage units or high towers. Their histories will not be blotted out by the flood waters.

So maybe we should build an ark. Not an ark 300 cubits long. But an ark that is planet sized. America can lead the way. We love big things here! A place where we could put everyone and everything and save it from the rage of the tempest and the water that is coming. It sounds futuristic but it could be done. It sounds expensive but it could be done. And if the whole Jenga tower is going to fall one way or another shouldn't we at least try? We're a smart people after all! We invented sliced bread and the Pirate of the Caribbean ride and decaffeinated coffee! What if we could figure some kind of place where we could save ourselves, our race, and all the things we love and take along all the animals and plants just like Noah. It would be sublime. But where would we even begin such a project?

It turns out we live on an ark. The bones are pretty good too. They should hold up for a least another half a billion years, give or take. It has all the food and water we need as we float through the cosmos. The harmful waves of radiation and solar wind simply lap at our gunwales. We don't even have to make any pitstops or bathroom breaks. We can sit here and live our lives, pretty normally, on our ark.

We're at a critical point and it needs more than a coat of paint but given the alternative electric cars and solar panels and getting rid of plastic shopping bags is a low-stakes, very non-invasive start. The alternative is grim. And if you think that having a generator or living on a mountain top is insulation enough then I suggest the following short poem by Martin Niemöller. It's of a different topic but the theme makes the point.


By Martin Niemöller

First they came for the Communists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists

And I did not speak out Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists

And I did not speak out Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews

And I did not speak out Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me

And there was no one left To speak out for me.

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