Reflections on Hurricane Irene and the Climate Connection

The community of Waterbury, VT begins clean-up after Irene hit the state on Tuesday, August 30, 2012. Photo: Langelle/GJEP

Note: Last month I was asked to submit photographs for an upcoming book on Hurricane (Tropical Storm) Irene and its impact on Vermont.  I was requested to provide numerous photos from my Photo Essay from Vermont: The Recovery from Hurricane Irene Begins.  Quite a few of my shots will be published.

I sent the following article along with the photos.  It won’t be published for various reasons, so I thought I should share it with Climate Connections.

Today is April 17, 2012. Two days ago was the normal date for Lake Iroquois, where I live and wrote this piece, to be free of ice.  Yesterday, the temperature here reached the mid-eighties.  It also was my 61st birthday. (I’ve seen a lot in my life so far and I expect life on the Earth to become much more difficult due to climate chaos and the possibility of total ecological collapse.)

I wrote the following for a mainstream readership, so it may not be as radical as our Climate Connections readers have come to expect, but I do believe that the last few paragraphs which touch on community promote the revolutionary concepts of mutual aid and justice.  Those are just a few of the traits necessary to help build a movement to stop the onslaught of the Earth and its inhabitants by the tiny one percent neoliberal criminals.

-Orin Langelle for GJEP

Irene and the Climate Connection

Lake Iroquois, VT   US           March 19, 2012

This is the last official day of winter.  This afternoon I looked at our thermometer and it was 81 F degrees in the shade.

My partner, Anne Petermann, and I have lived in a cottage on Lake Iroquois in Hinesburg, VT for the past fifteen years.  A few years ago the lake’s ice melt was on the 31st of March.  I spoke with some long-time residents about the early ice melt that year and they could not remember Iroquois’ water open that early.  This year, on St. Patrick’s Day, people were water skiing on the lake—they should have been ice fishing or enjoying another winter sport.

Many of us did not go snowshoeing or cross-country skiing this season. We’ve seen some plumes of smoke coming from sugar shacks this month, but suffice it to say people who make maple sugar are not happy.

In the beginning of this month record-breaking tornadoes swept through the US, breaking records for the entire month.

Last year on top of Irene we were hit with floods that washed over many of the shores of Lake Champlain.  Crops were ruined from heavy flooding on VT Rivers.

Besides being the board Chair of Global Justice Ecology Project, I’m a photojournalist.  I’ve been working on climate related issues for years, starting with Hurricane Mitch that struck Nicaragua in 1998.  I’ve covered UN climate conventions since 2004 and listened to first hand accounts of extreme weather globally by people that are feeling its impacts.  We know people in the small islands of the Pacific whose land is disappearing.

Migrations of people and animals are taking place over the Earth right now because of the weather.

We must recognize that extreme weather is occurring.  And its pace is quickening.

I’m originally from Missouri and when the massive EF5 tornado devastated Joplin, MO last May, and for the fact that I’m a photojournalist working on climate, I almost went.  Anne, who also works on climate issues, talked me into staying in VT, saying unfortunately I’d get a chance to photograph extreme weather damage in VT.  Little did we know that it would happen so fast with Irene.

In beginning of the aftermath, the day after in fact, Anne and I photographed and interviewed military personnel from Camp Johnson, where the National Guard was mobilizing and FEMA was beginning to arrive.  We ended up later that day on a road to Grafton, one of the towns that were cut off from ground transportation.  We went as far as we could go.

Between going to Camp Johnson and ending up on a washed out road near Grafton, we spent most of our time in Waterbury.  As you can see [from my photo] essay), most of Waterbury was just beginning recovery from Irene.  People who lost everything were helping each other.  The community was uniting.  The community came together in an emergency.

Was Irene cause by the changing climate?  To me quite certainly, but in the end it is up for you to decide.

The Union of Concerned Scientists states, “Recent scientific evidence suggests a link between the destructive power (or intensity) of hurricanes and higher ocean temperatures, driven…by global warming.”

It is evident to many of us that for far too long industrial civilization has been belching carbon into the atmosphere.  Is it to late to stop the damage that has already been done?  Maybe.  Or maybe not.  But real change needs to start happening now.

Most communities come together in emergencies—all over the world.  It is a shame though that it takes disaster for most people in communities to work hand in hand for their common good. Maybe it’s time for real community to come together–not just when disaster hits–but all of the time.  Maybe then we can find real solutions that we the people talk about and decide.

But maybe real community is just a dreamer’s utopia.  Someone has to dream though, or everyone’s dream may become a nightmare.

Orin Langelle is the board chair for Global Justice Ecology Project and is a photojournalist now editing four decades of his concerned photography.


Comments Off on Reflections on Hurricane Irene and the Climate Connection

Filed under Climate Change, Natural Disasters, Photo Essays by Orin Langelle

Comments are closed.