Skip to content

Dramatic rise in climate-driven flooding highlights urgent need to advance mitigation strategies

Detroit, Environment

The changing climate, driven primarily by the burning of fossil fuels and the resulting buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, has brought a rash of weather extremes to the summer of 2023.

While the devastating fires in Hawaii and Hurricane Idalia in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas have rightfully caught the country’s attention the past few weeks, Michigan – where our Kresge offices are headquartered – has also felt the impact of climate change through heat waves, intermittently awful air quality and flooding.

Metro Detroit was hit with heavy rain in late August. Flooding across the region led to widespread property damage, the closure of two highways, an air-travel stop at the Detroit Metro Airport, and a closure of Kresge’s headquarters in Troy, Michigan.

In an op-ed in the Detroit Free Press, Wayne County Executive Warren C. Evans, wrote that, “today’s climate reality urgently requires that we revisit the pressing issue of infrastructure funding and climate resiliency plans, because we simply cannot keep going through this same trauma year after year and accepting it as if there was no other way. The entire reason we are now facing climate change is because intelligent decisions that human beings should have made decades ago, based on scientific forecasts, were ignored until it was too late. Now here we are.”

But flooding represents more than an inconvenience or expense. It strikes at something deeper and more personal. In the words of Kresge Artist Fellow dream hampton:

The flooding eats your memories. It destroys them. It literally takes your old photographs, your prom dress, your father’s boots. When I think about flooding, I think about how when water is still, flooding is literally like water being trapped and having nowhere to go. Sometimes we don’t even have, not just the energy, but the means to deal with flooding. I think about what’s about to happen to this whole region. I think about individuals’ basements, and what it means every Spring to have to go down there and bail out your basement every year and try to repair that damage, and have some resilience against the way that it eats your house, the foundation of your house.

This narrative comes from the documentary film Freshwater, produced by hampton and focused on the impact of flooding on Belle Isle and in the Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood of Detroit.

The film is less than 10 minutes long – well worth the time to view it. In addition to hampton, three additional Kresge Artist Fellows – ill Weaver (formerly known as Invincible), Sterling Tolles, and Rafael Leafar – as well as former Environment Program grant partner Hip Hop Caucus contributed to the film.

As we are learning the hard way, the adverse effects of climate change are now unavoidable, and we need to do a better job of preparing for climate-driven weather extremes, including flooding.

We also need to do all we can – as quickly as we can – to stop burning fossil fuels and shift to clean, renewable energy, because every fraction of a degree of warming that can be averted matters for the well-being of humanity.