Cleaning Up After Mother Nature…With A Chainsaw

26 10 2014

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Unless you are a lumberjack, waking up to the sound of a chainsaw can be a vaguely unsettling experience. Even more so if you are located on an island that is known primarily for its pink sandy beaches, reinsurance market and rum-based libations of varying strengths.

But for many Bermudians, the depressing sound of nature being chopped into small pieces has become very familiar in the last few days. As most people on this side of the pond are more than aware, this 21-square-mile patch of land was hit by two major weather events in the space of a week – “Tropical Storm” Fay and Hurricane Gonzalo – and while Fay reportedly caught the country with its shorts down, residents were more prepared for the extreme winds that picked up where the storm had left off.

When I read the reports about Fay, my first thought was Michael Fish.

The reason for this is that – according to my friends and family on the island – there was no warning from the Bermudian weather forecasters that the tropical storm was going to be a problem. In 1987, Fish famously failed to grasp the fact that a major storm was going to hit the British Isles and told BBC viewers “not to worry” about the rumors of a hurricane – 18 people died and it caused millions of pounds of damage (mainly in the South of England).

What made the storm of ‘87 memorable was the fact that it was (for England, at least) extreme and, for that moment in time, a rare glimpse of what Mother Nature can do when provoked. If I am being honest, the concept of climate change was far from my mind in the mid-80’s – hair metal, girls and drinking snakebites were arguably top of my agenda – and while the amount of trees down in North London was upsetting, it never dawned on me that these sort of weather-related incidents would become the norm in years to come.

By the way, this is not a prelude to some kind of environmental rant about pollution or the amount of carbon dioxide that the developed nations continue to spew into the air. I have had far too many conversations/discussions/arguments with friends and relatives that lead down the road of climate change denial – often from people whose financial existence depends on favorable weather patterns – to fall into the trap of rabbiting on about environmental responsibility.

Of course, hurricanes and the like have been part and parcel of the global climate for decades.

Talk to anyone who has lived on the Gulf Coast or is lucky enough to live in Tornado Alley and they will likely tell you that destructive weather patterns are an accepted fact of life. So much so, that building a storm cellar into a property is more than a precautionary measure, it is just another place to hide on an especially blustery day.

However, there is no denying that extreme climate events are becoming more common – even more so when we consider the media coverage that attaches to a natural disaster. If we just take the last ten years, then the levels of weather-related news have reached new heights, many of which often focus on the potential for destruction coupled with the fact that citizens were unprepared for what nature was throwing at them.

Tropical storms that are actually hurricanes, floods caused by tsunamis, drought caused by extreme heat, tornados that rip through the heart of Oxfordshire…these are all signs that something is not quite right. And while there are those that don’t consider climate change to be the reason, there is little doubt (IMHO) that weather patterns are being affected by how humanity continues to treat this planet.

According to a recent piece in Rolling Stone, “There is always something more urgent, more immediately catastrophic to seize the attention of policymakers – and in the coming years, many of the crises that will distract us from dealing with the realities of climate change will largely have been caused by climate change.”

“Through all these short-term emergencies,” wrote Jeff Goddell in the September 25 issue, “the Earth will keep warming, the droughts will get worse, food will grow scarce, ice will vanish, the seas will rise, and starting around 2030, climate change will emerge from the background and eventually become the only thing we talk about. It will be the story of the century.”

With that in mind, all I will say is that the last week has shown me what can happen when nature decides to forge its own local path. And as a temporary Bermuda resident, just seeing the number of trees that litter the side of the road and listening to the sound of chainsaws clearing the aftermath of Fay and Gonzalo is profoundly depressing.

Granted, the trees will grow back and normal life will resume. Mother Nature will – as ever – replace the destruction with beauty, and for that I am grateful.

I just hope that the next time that she flexes her muscles, it doesn’t lead to governments and elected officials burying their  heads in the sand. And while Bermuda may not be the intended target, somewhere else in the world she will flex again, of that there is no doubt.

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