October 8, 2021 | OPINION | By Tom Byron | Illustration by Sierra Romero

Last block break, climate disaster almost destroyed my family home. A freak storm passed through my neighborhood, saturating the already soaked Virginia soil with nearly seven inches of rain in less than two hours. The roots of my neighbor’s backyard oak tree lost their grip, letting the wind rip the tree out of the ground and sending it crashing through the roof of my house. 

Nobody was hurt, and my parent’s recent decision to rebuild our backyard fence probably stopped the tree from crushing the house in half, but the damage was done. The impact punched four holes in the roof, damaged the trusses and beams in the ceiling, and soaked the entire top floor with rainwater. It took a 40-ton crane and a team of workers half a day to get the tree off the roof, and we were the lucky ones.

Usually, a storm like this might have ripped off some branches, or toppled some younger trees. But the sheer amount of rainfall from an unprecedented number of rainstorms this year, combined with stronger winds, was enough to take down completely healthy trees. My home county is used to flooding, large storms, and dealing with seemingly endless fall rain, but the effects of climate change have made everything worse. 

We get stronger storms, hotter summers, shorter winters, and so much rain that it rots farmers’ crops while they’re still in the ground. Plants aren’t built to handle this amount of wind and water, and neither are we.

From this storm alone, dozens of families in my hometown had their homes completely destroyed by falling trees. The county workers helping my dad get the tree off the roof showed him pictures of houses ripped in half by trees and joked that at least they didn’t have to bring the 90-ton crane to this call. 

According to the Washington Post, over the course of this year, nearly 1 in 3 Americans has experienced climate disaster, be it the western wildfires, northeastern flash floods, southern tropical storms, or blistering heatwaves in the Pacific Northwest. 

Almost 400 people have died from extreme weather in the past four months, according to CNN, and for the first time in history, the majority of Americans believe “the U.S. is facing the consequences of a warming world.” 

Here at Colorado College, I’ve talked to students who’ve had their homes placed under evacuation notice from wildfires, been trapped in their apartments during a sudden polar vortex, and had their hometowns ravaged by tropical storms. 

These students told me the same thing I’ve been feeling since hearing my own news from back home. It’s terrifying to have climate disaster turn from a distant, possible apocalypse or haunting pictures in the news into a real threat to your home and those you love. You realize that one day, the place you grew up might just disappear, or change so completely that it’s unrecognizable. 

It isn’t just some threat on the horizon, or something that you talk about in class, but a terrifying reality that’s already happening. Climate change is here, for me and countless others around the world, and it’s been here for years. I’m just lucky and privileged enough that it took this long to catch up to me.

That luck and privilege means that this disaster won’t destroy our lives. My parents have insurance, some money in the bank, a strong network of social support, and the ability to keep working despite this kind of damage to our home. 

It won’t be easy, but we can deal with it. But for many people facing these disasters, a damaged home or a flooded basement could mean homelessness, unemployment, or even death. 

Disaster relief programs aren’t designed to help with extreme weather of this magnitude, frequency, and breadth and the most vulnerable people [CB(1] will always be the ones to suffer the worst. 

Minorities and low-income populations are more likely to live in climate-vulnerable areas, like flood zones. [CB(2] Simultaneously, no amount of wealth or privilege is enough to protect someone completely. No amount of insurance, prevention, or safety measures will change the fact that disaster risk is a game of chance where the odds are stacked against you more every year.

Honestly, confronting climate disaster like this makes it tough to respond with anything but despair. Nothing one person can do will be enough to protect themselves, let alone stop or repair the damage to the world’s climate. 

But that’s because this isn’t a problem we can confront alone. If you want to protect yourself and your home, find the climate groups that are already pushing for change. 

Talk to your friends about why this matters, about what’s happening in the world, and what you can do to change it together. Register to vote and find candidates who promise to take a hard line on climate, then hold them to their promises. 

Making change together is hard, but it’s the only thing left for us to do. 

 [CB(1]Define vulnerable here.

 [CB(2]Can be checked for a more accurate example, but generally this is true. 

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