Driving to meet a friend for dinner, I noticed puddles on the main road. Nothing significant, they weren’t deep (yet), but they were surprisingly large given the fairly light rain earlier in the day. Although no more rain was forecast, I began constructing alternate routes home in my head in case the rains came anyway and streets did flood (again).
I live in suburban Chicago, not a third world country, not a low-lying coastal town, yet here I was plotting emergency directions home because of a few large puddles.
That’s when it hit me. We are the frogs. That old warning, made more famous by Al Gore in his documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” felt real. The premise is that a frog placed in boiling water will try to escape. But if the water is tepid and heated slowly, the frog will become accustomed to the temperature changes and fail to perceive the danger, eventually boiling to death.
Isn’t that about where we find ourselves today with climate change? We hear about a hurricane nearly destroying New Orleans; a super storm in New Jersey causing $65 billion of damage, rendering more than 30,000 homeless, and killing over 150 people. News programs and documentaries tell of melting glaciers, raging wildfires, droughts, and changing weather systems that alter migration patterns and destroy habitats.
But, like all politics, almost all credible evidence is local. Just a few weeks ago my 19-year old son called me as he drove late at night after a rainstorm trying to find a flood-free route home. A year before that as I tried to take my youngest son 3 miles to his high school for an early baseball practice, we drove for 90 minutes, finding every possible path to the school underwater before we gave up and searched out a relatively dry way back home.
In our area, what we used to call “100 year floods” now arrive once or twice a year, flooding basements and turning short neighborhood drives into hours-long hunts for passable streets. Seeing rolled up carpets, soggy electronics, and damaged furniture piled at curbs along our suburban streets has become the new normal.
Yet rarely do we hear anyone outside of activist groups and op-ed writers talk about the looming threat. When will we, along with our friends and neighbors, prioritize working on solutions?
Hearing a description of our current environment 20 years ago, we would have pictured a dystopian work of fiction. But we are living in it. Now. And I don’t want to be one of those frogs.