Lauren Stevens: Logical Berkshire impact of era of climate change

WILLIAMSTOWN— If people were logical — that beginning of a sentence could lead to a multitude of endings. In this case: if people were logical they would be selling coastal property, especially in the south, and moving inland and north. Maybe there's hope for the repopulating of Berkshire.

Of course, if people were logical they never would have built homes on, say, barrier beaches like Cape Cod and the Jersey shore; or on sinking islands like Manhattan; and certainly not between the Everglades and the ocean.

These thoughts were occasioned by reading "The Water Will Come," Jeff Goodell, Little Brown & Co., 2017, who has spoken at Williams College. One time he sketched the watery future of New York City, which is at least trying to defend itself from the onslaught; and another time he focused on Miami, which seems oblivious even as the sea water from normal tides covers downtown streets.

We're not just talking about rising water. We're talking about why the water rises, essentially two factors. As the oceans heat up, they expand. And as the world heats, the ice sheets melt. Rising sea water floods, especially in storms, and also invades drinking water supplies.

And as the climate warms, conditions in the south, already largely dependent on air conditioning, become less tenable, while winters in the north are easing. (Don't snicker. Yes, this winter had its cold snap and a March of snow; but the degree days trend ever warmer.)

Goodell writes about defensive efforts, such as building walls around parts of NYC — which, as he points out, raises anguishing questions of which areas to protect. Wall Street, we can be sure. Parts of Brooklyn? Maybe not. He writes about how wealthier people in southern Florida can put their homes on stilts. He writes about how people rebuild right where the last storm wiped them out — in fact how flood insurance encourages them to do so.

The best we can do to confront the challenge of climate change is to reduce our use of fossil fuels and elect officials who will so legislate. Moving may be better than investing in fleeting fixes.

The demographics for our area show a continued decline in population, with drastic effects on our school and municipal budgets. I imagine that in a logical world the first signs of the redevelopment would be our snowbirds no longer flying south for the winter, having sold off their Florida condos. Then, gradually at first, but with increasing acceleration, we would see more real estate purchases and new homes going up.

Raising a caution that they didn't chew up remaining agricultural land because, yes, our ability to grow our own food will improve with the climate. Yes, we are subject to more dramatic weather, droughts and storms, but our growing season continues to lengthen, whereas fruit and vegetable production in the south will decline.

Climate change is bad for everyone everywhere but, with planning, Berkshire population and economy could increase, while agriculture, in a slump since the opening of the Erie Canal, could rise again. May be the repopulating has already begun.

At least that's how it looks from the White Oaks.

A writer and environmentalist, Lauren R. Stevens is a regular Eagle contributor.


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