Weather, Culture, and Crisis

May 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

Ethnolust is kicking off at the start of Summer in North Carolina.  One of the most striking things about NC for visitors is the state’s nature.  NC residents are lucky to live in a state with such natural beauty.  There are beaches and mountains.  You can surf and snowboard without going far at all.  North Carolina’s nature is great… but not all the time.

While in comparison to this and this, NC is far from extreme.  Still, the last month’s reoccurring flash floods (last one reached around 2 feet) has been quite an adventure for the uninitiated such as myself.  This adventure is due, in part, to the weather (LOTS of rain).  But human factors are also impacting the ways that people like myself experience what nature offers  Some of the most obvious include the following: infrastructure, labor practices, and legal structures.

You see, the nice weather has called for more yard work, which has produced more debris, which was cleared by landscapers and others into the street.  Because streets are public space, most property owners have ignored many of the previously mentioned steps.  Since then, rain has fallen regularly (here’s the nature part) and shifted clippings, trash, and whatever is not big enough to remain stationary to lower ground. Drains, which are logically concentrated in low ground quickly clogged.  As a result, the season’s heavy rains (which tend to last less than 30 minutes) leave high water levels in patches of the city.

Most of the water tends to drain within an hour of the rainfall.  The next day, these sites may be completely dry (its hot in NC during the Summer).  Since this has occurred with regularity over the last month, people have changed their behaviors.  Many now routinely park on higher ground in order to prevent rain levels from flooding their vehicles.  But, they (it hurts too much to say we) have not rushed to clear the drains.  Even though it doesn’t improve collective conditions, changing parking habits is a great way to deal with intermittent flash floods.  And this isn’t to say that in making this decision people are selfish–though we are negligent.  There are wonderful ways to explain the cultural production of neglect, and we can talk about another time.

The truth is, we cannot fully prepare for natural (and not so natural) events.  The unfortunate event in Fukushima reminded us of that.  The record flooding along the Mississippi river is telling us this now.  However, the ways that we learn to cope with these conditions–the cultural practices that often define our societies–have an extraordinary effect on the significance of these events.  This is not to say that natural disasters and other crises are our faults, but it makes sense to think about how cultural our experiences of nature are.


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