Support the Timberjay by making a donation.

Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Are we ready to face the inconvenient truth?

Kathleen McQuillan
Posted 6/27/24

Inspired by the book by Al Gore published in 2006.

On June 18, while washing dishes, I glanced out the kitchen window and lamented another cloudy day. Seemed like ages since we’d had a …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Are we ready to face the inconvenient truth?

Inspired by the book by Al Gore published in 2006.
On June 18, while washing dishes, I glanced out the kitchen window and lamented another cloudy day. Seemed like ages since we’d had a good dose of sunshine.  While still fighting off the blues, I noticed the wind kicking up. The sky darkened. I heard a distant rumble of thunder.  Suddenly there came a bright flash and an instantaneous window-rattling crash that shocked me out of my pity-pot. Then came rain. Lots of it! A torrent poured down for hours. 
I’ve lived in northern Minnesota for over forty years. Weather patterns have changed. Disturbing reports of natural disasters are on the radio often, but in places farther away. When I’m listening, I’m usually sitting safely in the comfort of my home, thanking my lucky stars. Yes, we have harsh winters, but we prepare for them. And the insects, while seemingly worse than ever before, haven’t killed me yet. There hasn’t been a forest fire licking at my front door. Or an insanely powerful tornado or hurricane. No heatwaves that won’t simmer down.
Photos capture people’s struggles but they are happening elsewhere. I feel sorrow and sometimes send money to help. But for the most part, I feel safe in my environment — up until last week. Suddenly, it was our turn. 
People all across the northland were hit by the same storm I had witnessed outside my kitchen window.  I watched safely sheltered in a stout house set on raised concrete footings. Water flowed swiftly well below the floor joists and down the slope to Plum Creek, further on to the Little Fork River. My creek along with countless other tributaries drain thousands of acres of lowlands — perfect conditions for water levels rising in the Little Fork to breach its banks and flood the entire town of Cook. It rose so quickly that no one was prepared for the extent of the damage. 
I just returned home after four days helping my son in the aftermath of this unexpected disaster. His family resides in Mt. Iron. As in umpteen other communities across the Iron Range, his basements were inundated by chest-deep water from the city’s storm drains that destroyed everything in its reach. He’d never seen anything like it. 
Just days before, they’d been hit by a storm carrying high winds and golf-ball sized hail. It damaged windows, gardens, cars, ATV’s, tools, equipment, everything parked or stored outdoors. Now, he was facing more mayhem indoors. Furnaces, water heaters, appliances, carpets, furniture, important papers, and treasured personal belongings, lost. He, like many people, did not have flood insurance. Once the water was completely pumped from the house, he was devastated by what he saw. 
We shared feelings for his neighbors, for farmers who’d lost their crops and for businesses, offices, libraries, and stores filling dumpsters with sodden inventory. A palpable sadness filled the air around us and our entire communities. 
We worked together to empty the basements as quickly as we could to prevent mold growth, a major risk after a flood that can result in more costly repairs and serious illness. There were many moments of reflection on the root causes of the disaster. We discussed the endless climate change debates over the question, “Is it real or a hoax?”  This was proof enough for us. The warming of the planet was certainly threatening life as we knew it.  No more false sense of security. I was now much more aware of our human fragility. Ignoring the evidence would only keep speeding it up. No more just counting blessings. Action would be required. The flood placed a spotlight on an undeniable truth, the need to amp up our level of concern for the climate and make some real changes.  
The rain has let up, at least for now. The river that was flowing under my house has subsided.  Life goes on. But I don’t want to slip into complacency. I want to be doing something that can help us be better equipped if adversity strikes again and reduce the likelihood that it will. 
I’m troubled by the “hundred-year flood” explanation. Disasters are occurring more frequently and building in intensity. Our way of life is among the main drivers of climate change. Our nation’s economic success depends upon continually increasing production and consumption of goods and services. We know about the negative effects on our environment and it is not a sustainable model for a livable planet.  This is serious and requires a major shift in the way we talk about this issue. We must ask, what isn’t working and what will we do about it? 
We can begin with redefining our “needs” and then committing to buying and wasting less. Recycle. Reduce single use plastic, disposables and items poorly made or over-packaged, trash that’s quickly overwhelming landfills. Try to buy locally and in bulk whenever possible.  Seek alternatives to toxics. They are harmful to people and the planet. Become aware of our infrastructure, currently under extreme pressure. Support policy changes that address failing systems and structures to help prevent catastrophes. 
The truth is getting clearer. It’s time to take a good look at our world close to home and do what we can, in concert with others, to make it a safer and more livable community. Even one small step a day helps make the world a better place. Resist climate denial, unhelpful excuses, false blaming, intentional distractions, and threats to “undo” the changes we are already making that we know are necessary to our survival. Get comfortable sharing your positivity for change. 
I want to end with some concrete information to help readers who are in need of assistance.  It was great to see that Governor Walz and several other elected officials traveled the region this week to witness firsthand the devastation in communities hit the hardest. He talked about measures being taken to obtain federal government assistance to augment state resources. St. Louis County has declared a state of emergency and is conducting an official count of people directly affected by the floods. You can go online to the State of MN Department of Commerce to find a form with instructions on how to report damage and apply for recovery assistance. 
In addition to attending to one’s physical and material needs, don’t forget to pay attention to your emotional and psychological needs. You may be carrying a heavy load of grief and anxiety. Experiences as traumatic as a natural disaster can trigger emotional and psychological responses like depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome. Take note of your mental health and reach out if you have concerns.
For families who need immediate relief, you can contact The Salvation Army Hotline at 1-800-842-7279 or the Red Cross at 1-800-733-2767. For specific needs, call the United Way sponsored 2-1-1 Helpline. You can also google Flood Recovery Information MN, you’ll find lots there from both government and non-governmental resources.  
This devastating experience could help us see more clearly what’s at stake for our future  if we don’t find new ways to do things. Ones that could help slow global warming trends.  Time is of the essence. The water in my son’s basement rose four feet in forty-five minutes — proof that time is a precious commodity, especially during a crisis. So let’s move away from turning a blind eye, quibbling over the small stuff, or rehashing the past. There’s work to be done. And a lot’s at stake. Let’s believe in ourselves.  Our future depends on it!