Before the Flood

Editor’s Note: This is an opinion piece for the Wanganui Chronicle.

Before the Flood is a double album featuring Bob Dylan and the Band recorded live in1974. Joining Dylan on stage during the American tour were Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Levon Helm and Richard Manuel. From New York to Los Angeles, the superstar line up rocked the States, and the album was eventually certified platinum.

Before the Flood is also a documentary film about climate change featuring Leonardo DiCaprio that debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival last month. The film opens in theaters the 21st of October and will be broadcast on the National Geographic Channel worldwide on the 31st of October.

With over a decade of experience on the front lines of the issue, Dicaprio has established himself as a global leader on climate change. He stays up to date on the issue, which is critical because scientists’ understanding of climate change changes constantly. One recent revelation in the United States is that flood maps used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are no longer valid. In other words, major flooding is occurring in places it never occurred before and impacting on tens of thousands of homeowners without flood insurance.

Families and entire communities are being devastated by extreme weather events that come with larger and larger repair bills. Our region has experienced this and will continue to experience it going forward: higher repair bills leading to higher rates.

Horizons Regional Council reported that the 2015 floods caused $120 million in damage not including costs to the rural sector. There were over 2,000 slips on roads, which included 25 road closures. The next major rain event will cost more. In fact, the next flood in Whanganui will cost ratepayers far more than the wastewater treatment plant. The next mega-storm is already baked into the cake due to the persistence of carbon in the atmosphere.

The question for our community is: what will we do before the flood?

The answer, my friends is Blowin’ in the Wind, because All along the Watchtower you can see the waters risings Up on Cripple Creek after the Rainy Day Women #12 and 35. Like a Rolling Stone, The Weight of a huge slip closed Highway 61 Revisited. Don’t think twice, it’s (not) all right.

But seriously, the first thing we need to do is change our perspective. So far climate change has been framed as an environmental issue with ranting, finger pointing, denial, protests, and token gestures – all with little effect.

Taking a rigorous and holistic look at the impacts of climate change on our district makes it clear that for the next half century it will manifest as an economic and social issue. On the one hand drought and flood will disrupt economic activity, cost farmers dearly in production losses and repair bills, and make transport difficult or impossible in some areas. On the other hand, enormous repair bills will add to the rates burden and suppress local economic activity. Ratepayers with fewer dollars in their bank accounts will spend less in local shops and local business owners will lose profitability. Middle and lower income families will feel the burden most acutely.

If we’re able to shift our perspective on the issue, the next thing to do is take action. In theory this means holding water on the land during major rain events to take the peak off floods. In practice this means restoring wetlands, fencing and planting streams, and planting trees on hillsides. Ordinary citizens need to support the efforts in these areas being made by our councils.

If we are to seriously address climate change in our community we need approaches that are robust, holistic and inclusive. Gone are the days of talking and finger pointing. These are days for action.

Dr. Nelson Lebo has been studying climate change for 30 years.

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