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After the Storm

9/8/2005 12:00:00 AM

Tags: Katrina, hurricane

These days, there seems only to be Katrina.

There are other things going on in my life—big things, little things, personal and professional. But even as I refuse to turn on the TV and let my kids be inundated with horrific images, I’m riveted each day by the newspaper and online accounts as this crooked piece of our history unfolds. My daughter is shaken; yesterday she clipped a photo from the cover of Time magazine to show her classmates. My ten-year-old son takes it all deep inside. “Mommy, it seems like everyone just feels sad and angry and all this emotion,” he said to me tonight as I stood at the counter reading the New York Times.

I’m gathering up a collection of e-mails: thoughtful comments and questions from friends and NH&G readers, political and environmental commentary (cogent, but inevitable) from the George Lakoffs and the Bill McKibbens, donation requests, even a crass attempt at garnering publicity for a miracle builder who could create environmentally friendly materials out of the rubble (I kid you not).

My friend Elizabeth, whose home and community in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, have been obliterated, sent a link to The Waters That Came, her tribute to the hurricane victims, sung by a twelve-year-old whose home and community have also been destroyed.

My friend Rachel passed along an email from her rabbi; I admired how he addressed the global warming connection (which many of us are still dancing around). He called for “a deep soul-searching for us as individuals, as communities, countries and as global citizens. I am not sure that anyone can deny with integrity that this massive devastation is in part a result of climate change accelerated by global warming. … This tragedy must wake us all up to the part that we each play in this, and each try to change something in our own behavior as a small gesture to those traumatized in New Orleans. I refrained from using a car this week—cycling and walking everywhere instead. An insignificant protest against a greedy, over-consuming world.”

It was his admission that his efforts felt insignificant that caught me, though. That, I think, is what’s behind the deep hollow I’ve felt all week as I’ve gone about my secure, undisturbed, even luxurious, life, donating a few bucks and baking a few cakes for the bake sale my son’s class held for the victims. What difference could I make, really? It’s all so much huger than me.

We greenies have been spouting off on the devastation global warming will bring for years, of course. I have thick, thick folders full of evidence and reports and dire warnings about the havoc greenhouse gases could wreak. And this week, there’s absolutely no satisfaction in declaring ourselves proven right. For me, there’s just an oddly removed despair and questioning as I’ve watched horrifying events unfold from my dry, economically privileged hamlet of Boulder. In the face of what looks like Armageddon, does pushing Energy Star appliances and educating people about the value of low-E windows and good insulation really make any difference? (Oh, I get so dramatic…)

I’m grateful to the Natural Home & Garden readers who reminded me we could—and should—take a stand in the face of this. That we have the power of the press—an ability to rally community and resources.

“When the immediate and short-term crisis of Hurricane Katrina abatees, there will eventually be a rebuilding and long-term housing need across the impacted states,” one reader commented. “Is there anything Natural Home & Garden magazine can do to encourage green rebuilding?” Another, a survivor of Hurricane Georges whose cement home, solar radio and lantern withstood that storm’s wrath, suggested: “How wonderful it would be to see a team of environmental people go into the ravaged area and get an entire green home up and ‘running’ BEFORE regular services were available. What a shame if the same vulnerable wooden homes entirely dependent on outside infrastructures were rebuilt again.”

I’m reading a lot these days about the opportunity that arises out of crisis—to address our country’s economic disparity, to rebuild in more thoughtful ways. I, for one, vow to never use the devastation on the Gulf Coast as “evidence” for my environmental agenda. I do, however, believe that while the world is watching, we have a vast opening to show off the benefits (sometimes life-saving) of building sustainable, self-sufficient housing. That’s the not-so-small part we in the Natural Home & Garden community can play. And suddenly, I’m not feeling quite so small anymore.

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