radar image of Hurricane Hilary in the Pacific
Hurricane Hilary intensifies to a Category 4 storm in the Pacific. (Photo: NOAA)

7 Things David Pogue Wants You to Know About Climate Disaster

The author of ‘How to Prepare for Climate Change’ shares his takeaways from summer 2023


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In his book, How To Prepare For Climate Change: A Practical Guide To Surviving The Chaos, science writer and television presenter David Pogue explains the ways in which you and I can prepare our homes and daily lives for wildfires, hurricanes, and other forms of extreme weather made worse and more frequent by the effects of human-caused climate change. “And now the climate disaster is upon us,” Pogue tells me over the phone. After a summer full of wildfires, flooding, and—a new one for me—heat domes, I asked him what lessons all of us need to take away.

The Climate Disaster Is Upon Us

“It gives me a weird feeling, because this book is two years old, and the book is describing this summer,” Pogue says. “I feel like if everybody had taken the advice, we would have saved ourselves a lot of death and destruction.”

It’s difficult to think of a part of the world that hasn’t been impacted by extreme weather in recent months. Smoke from the wildfires spanning the breadth of Canada is sporadically blowing into the United States, making it dangerous to breathe the air for days at a time across the eastern seaboard. Nearly half our country’s population has spent the summer enduring oppressive, never-ending heatwaves. A tropical storm hit Southern California. A fire destroyed Lahaina. Floods caused $5 billion of property damage in Vermont. The situation in parts of Europe and China may be even worse.

“What everybody has been predicting is now happening,” says Pogue.

It’s Not the End, but It Does Need to Be a Beginning

“This isn’t an extinction event. I do not believe that,” Pogue explains. “But we do need to make some adjustments.”

In his book, Pogue details ways in which all of us can identify threats to our homes and ways of life, then reduce the risk we face. Removing all flammable plants and materials from within 100 feet of your home, for instance, is necessary if you hope to save it from a wildfire. Strapping your roof beams to your foundation and backing your car up to make contact with your garage door may save your house during a hurricane. Adopting more resilient building standards when we build new homes may actually now cost home buyers less money long term, thanks to savings on insurance. And all of us should be stockpiling essential supplies like drinking water.

“I’m astonished there is so little talk of adapting,” Pogue tells me. “The message in the book is, ‘bad stuff is here.’ Until now, the action message has only been, ‘lower your carbon footprint.’ Yeah, we should still be doing that. But, it’s too late to have that be the only message. We need to start adapting.”

It’s Up to You

“The government is, in fact, behind the curve,” Pogue says. As we saw in Lahaina, everything from building standards to infrastructure to evacuation procedures, and even warnings are not able to match the scale of the threat we face.

Pogue suggested there were good examples, like the city of Chicago handing out barrels so residents can collect their own rain water. But then I reminded him that heavy rains caused manhole covers to explode out of city streets during an ill-fated attempt to host a NASCAR race in the city. “If you want protection, you need to protect yourself,” he responded.

In the book, Pogue offers another great example. Homeowners who spend $10,000 extra bringing their house up to the voluntary 2018 International Residency Code standard with things like stronger foundations, better drains, and safer electrics can expect to save $110,000 in costs over their home’s lifetime, and receive an 11-to-1 return on their investment. Yet in many areas of the country, no residential building codes are enforced at all.

Nowhere Is Safe

“The most popular chapter of my book is ‘Where To Live,’” says Pogue. “One of those places was Vermont. Yet, look at the flooding that occurred there in July. Nobody saw that coming.”

In what the National Weather Service is now calling, “The Great Vermont Flood of 2023,” over nine inches of rain fell in under 48 hours, leading to catastrophic flash flooding throughout towns and communities across the state. Two people were killed, and more than 4,000 homes and 800 businesses were damaged or destroyed.

“I got some angry emails from readers about that,” Pogue laments. “We’re never going to look out the window again and see the same weather we saw as kids, no matter where you are. It’s like we’re on a new planet, we have to adapt to new conditions.”

You Can Create Change

“The number one thing that any individual can do is change the system,” Pogue says passionately. “Make the country or your community more aware and more resilient. You don’t need to wait for a Presidential election, you can create change in your school or your company. Everybody, top to bottom, needs to be convinced it’s time to act. Institutions are made up of people, convince them.”

“I reject the notion that we should feel helpless,” he continues. “If every person would begin to take the action possible in their church, their synagogue, their school, or their community, things will change. You actually do have power.”

What Pogue is calling for isn’t necessarily just a reduction in carbon emissions, but an investment in resiliency and disaster response. “For a long time, people thought that adaptation was a dirty word because it meant throwing in the towel,” Pogue says. “That’s why homes in San Fransisco don’t have air conditioners. We thought we’d have more time. Now we know we don’t. We need to start adapting.”

Information Is Key

I asked Pogue what visitors to Western Maui could have done to be more prepared for the wildfire. Initially stumped, we adapted some of the advice from his book to that scenario.

Pogue recommends a free smartphone app called Emergency, created by the Red Cross. “Just put your address, and any other homes or family members you want to look out for into it, then close it and forget about it,” he says. In the event of a natural or manmade disaster, the second an alert for that area is issued, it’ll sound an alarm and push a notification through to your phone, along with information about local shelters and instructions from first responders and disaster managers. By temporarily adding any travel destinations to it, you’ll get notifications for those areas, too. That could give you valuable time to flee—Pogue reminds you not to forget your go bag—seek shelter, or take other action. At the very least, you’ll know why your resort’s smoke alarms are blaring.

The same solution—information—applies to other risks, both immediate and long term. Pogue uses the example of people in California driving through flood waters from Tropical Storm Hilary as an example. “18 inches of water is enough to float your car,” he says, highlighting why you should never drive through a flood.

“The heatwaves of 2023 are [about] pure life saving through information,” he also offers. “Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are more or less invisible unless you know what [signs] you’re looking for.”

It’s Not Too Late

“I wrote this book during the Trump administration,” Pogue says. “Since that time, we did in fact elect a government who does mention climate change in every speech, who did pass the largest climate action bill in history. Major changes are taking place. All the things that are going to get us out of this mess are finally under way.”

In his book, Pogue acknowledges the same reality reported by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) last year: a certain level of devastation is now all but guaranteed, and we must adapt to that new reality. But, at the same time, taking worldwide steps to eliminate carbon emissions as soon as possible will mitigate the severity of the climate disaster.

“If there’s an upside to this summer, it’s that more eyes are open, and more action is being taken,” Pogue concludes. “We won’t go back to the weather of our youth, but we do have a solid chance of heading off the worst.”