Matunuck: Location, location, location and climate change

A week ago I was hunkered down in bed reading Elizabeth Kolbert’s Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature and Climate Change by the LED light of a miner’s lamp. Well chosen bedtime story for the power outage following a huge storm. I chuckled at the irony, but the storm had been no laughing matter. Bryan Norcross of the Weather Channel had correctly predicted “a super-mega-combo freak of a storm slamming into the most populated part of the country.” That’s what we got.

My little farm house which has resisted wind, rain, hail, ice, and snow for the better part of 200 years came through intact. (It did get fortifications against violent weather in its recent renovation. Rotten sills were replaced and the wooden frame was bolted to the granite foundation.) None of the trees that I can see from the house had suffered more than light pruning. I did not know then that thousands of fellow denizens of the eastern seashore had been much less lucky — the second part of Norcross’ prediction come true.

Power outages infuriate me. As a colleague said, “they peel away the thin veneer of civilization from our lives.” Electrical wires strung pole to pole at the height of tree tops also sum up American business practices: take the cheapest, most expedient way even if its also ugly, prone to disruption and expensive to repair. On the other hand, regular power outages give businesses new markets for specialized products. The miner’s lamp marketed beyond West Virginia is an example. And then there is the industry of “storm chasers” with their chain saws and bucket trucks.

But reading Kolbert involved learning about much bigger catastrophes: “Ice core records show that we are steadily drawing closer to the temperature peaks of the last interglacial, when sea levels were some fifteen feet higher than they are today. Just a few degrees more and the earth will be hotter than it has been at any time since our species evolved. The feedbacks that have been identified in the climate system — the ice-albedo feedback, the water vapor feedback, the feedback between temperatures and carbon storage in the permafrost — take small changes to the system and amplify them into much larger forces.” (pg 188)

No single storm is, by itself, evidence of global warming but we had a 100-year flood In March 2010 and took a brutal battering from Hurricane Irene a year ago September. Sunday I walked the beach from Matunuck almost to Moonstone to gawk at the destruction left by Hurricane Sandy. The realtors’¬†admonishment, “location, location, location,” had once made these properties choice. But the virulence of storms and possibly other factors have turned that truism on its head. Despite great differences in the expenditures on the houses, their location right on the beach proved their undoing as man, nature and climate change lashed against one another last week.

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  1. Roy said:

    Well said, Susan, well said. Your photos are an excellent visual description of the impacts in Matunuck, much like the written descriptions I have provided to you for the Shelter Harbor, Misquamicut Beach areas to your west here in Rhode Island. Yet, as you point out in your notes above, until we more fully understand the broader and deeper changes occurring globally, these sorts of outcomes from storms will just become far more common and destructive.

  2. Ellie said:

    Well said…Glad Kennel House is in good shape at least.

  3. Roy said:

    Susan, while you were reading Kolbert’s book by miner’s light (an item my Scottish coal mining ancestors never used beyond the mine – I believe), I was reading Robert Kaplan’s “The Revenge of Geography” by daylight and nowhere did he write about climate change or weather in general. I wonder when the defense department and state department power clusters will begin to take this topic seriously?

  4. Yes, well said, Susan. And what powerful visual support. How did Willow Dell fare?

  5. Eugenia said:

    Thank you, Susan. The irony of clear sky and bright sun illuminating the audacity laid bare speaks with authority.

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