Dec 7, 2013
Boulder Flooding: Remembering Warnings From ‘Weather Report’
Posted on Sep 15, 2013
By Subhankar Banerjee, ClimateStoryTellers
About 11pm Thursday night I spoke with Anurag Agrawal, a doctoral student at the University of Colorado Electrical Engineering department. He told me over the phone:
“I attended my class on Wednesday afternoon while it was still drizzling. I went back home from school at around 6 pm with the rain getting worse. At about 8 pm, I got a text message about the flash flood warning from the National Weather Service (NWS). Then every 30–60 minutes I was getting texts from NWS as well as the university alert system regarding the status of the floods. People were advised to stay away from the Boulder Creek and try and stay at high–rise areas. I had never seen anything like this in my 7 years at Boulder, and rarely back in India. Being on the 3rd floor of a building, I felt safe inside the house but a friend of mine who lived close to the campus was evacuated like many others. The campus was declared closed on Thursday and Friday. The small boulder creek where we used to go tubing in summer has turned into a river with water flowing at 5000 cubic feet per sec!”
The Los Angeles Times reported that “officials are seeing flooding in areas that are not even close to water. Many major roads in and out of Boulder were closed or impassable, and officials were asking people to stay in their homes.”
So far three deaths have been confirmed in central Colorado. Boulder’s Daily Camera reported that the sheriff’s office “feared that more fatalities would be discovered as crews tried to make their way into the mountain towns and heavily affected areas.”
The AP article made a connection between wildfire and flood—both are becoming more frequent and more extreme with climate change:
“Some of the flooding was exacerbated by wildfire… That was particularly true near Jamestown in an area scarred by fire in 2010 and another near Colorado Springs’ Waldo Canyon that was hit in 2012. Rain is normally soaked up by a sponge–like layer of pine needles and twigs on the forest floor. But wildfires incinerate that layer and leave a residue in the top layer of soil that sheds water.”
Furthermore, climate change induced bark beetles infestation during the last decade killed tens of millions of pine and piñon trees, all across the southwest. As I wrote in 2010 that between 2001 and 2005, more than 54.5 million piñons—90% of mature piñons died in New Mexico from bark beetles infestation.
In 2011 the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth presented as exhibition of my desert photographs, Where I Live I Hope to Know. In the accompanying catalog I wrote:
The massive death and destruction of trees—from bark beetles and wildfires—turn a forest that used to be a carbon sink—to a carbon source, further contributing to climate change.
We can connect many more dots like this. But the point I’m trying to make here is that we can keep arguing whether the devastating still–unfolding flood in Colorado was caused (or amplified) by climate change (or not) or we could get serious about addressing the climate crisis. Sadly, there is no such luck in the horizon, however, as I wrote in a recent article, “Obama in the US, and Harper in Canada, in tandem, are turning North America into a petro–imperial and petro–despot continent. This does not bode well for solving the climate crisis.”
The Obama presidency has all but finished off the environmental movement in the US. The movement has essentially become what I’d call—the glass is half–full movement. The concept is most clearly exemplified by the Keystone XL pipeline issue. Environmentalists who are Obama supporters cheerily point out that he delayed the construction of the northern half of the pipeline, while critics like myself keep pointing out that he gave approval for the building of the southern half. It is a great irony that the Keystone XL pipeline has become—the Kardashian—the celebrity of the environmental movement. Under the cover of the Keystone XL Obama’s environmental policy is causing great troubles everywhere else: from drilling in the Arctic Ocean, to super–deep–water–drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, to fracking (onshore and offshore), and a recent Mint Press News investigative report stated: “many key pipeline and oil and gas industry marketing projects are currently up for expedited review, making up for—and by far eclipsing—the capacity of Keystone XL’s northern half.”
More than a decade of wars abroad has hollowed out the US economy. Now, responding to frequent climate change disasters—wildfires, floods, hurricanes—will further empty out the government’s coffer. The Empire might not need clothes to survive (bombs and drones will do), but people and all other species will still need a healthy environment—to survive.
The Weather Report: Art and Climate Change exhibition happened in 2007 that visually gave warnings about a deadly flood in the Boulder Creek. Six years have passed. America is yet to take any meaningful action on climate change. Will the death and devastation from this week’s flood in Colorado simply pass us by as a mere spectacle?
Subhankar Banerjee is a photographer, writer, and activist. His most recent book Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point will be published in paperback on October 8 (Seven Stories Press). He was recently Director’s Visitor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, Distinguished Visiting Professor at Fordham University in New York, received Distinguished Alumnus Award from the New Mexico State University, and Cultural Freedom Award from Lannan Foundation.
Copyright 2013 Subhankar Banerjee
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