Let\u2019s stop talking about climate change in the future tense. Climate change is happening here and now, right in our Blue Ridge backyard.\n\n\n\nThe floods caught everyone by surprise, including me.\n\n\n\nI left Blacksburg early after my wife called to warn about rising waters. The river hadn\u2019t flooded onto the road yet, but it was getting close. A passing driver flashed his lights\u2014never a good sign. As I topped the next hill, I saw a small river running across the road.\n\n\n\nWhen people think about the effects of climate change, they often envision melting icebergs or rising sea levels along the coast line. I live in the mountains, where we\u2019re not downstream from anyone. And yet Hurricane Michael flooded dozens of roads in Floyd County, destroyed driveways, carved up dirt roads and brought transportation to a dead halt. \n\n\n\n\n\n\n\nScientists tell us that extreme weather events like this will only become more common as the climate continues to change. Climate change is no longer a future consideration. It\u2019s happening now, and its effects are being felt everywhere.\n\n\n\nMassive storms and flooding are creating refugee crises that directly affect international geopolitics. Military officials have identified climate change as a threat to national security, not just from the direct impacts of weather but also from the chaos and political instability it creates.\n\n\n\nHurricanes are striking the South in greater numbers and intensity. Algal blooms created a toxic \u201cred tide\u201d that plagued Florida through the fall. Virginia\u2019s Tangier Island, which gave the world soft shell crab, is disappearing beneath the rising Chesapeake Bay.\n\n\n\nFloyd County, where I live, was a destination for the back-to-the-land movement of the \u201960s and \u201970s. People moved there to seek personal freedom and lay the groundwork for the alternative culture for which Floyd is known today. Some deliberately moved to Floyd\u2014and to other communities in the Blue Ridge and Appalachia\u2014to retreat from an expected environmental and societal collapse.\n\n\n\nBut there is no escape\u2014not from climate change nor from the geopolitical chaos that it brings. Its effects can be seen throughout the region\u2014flooding in the mountains, hurricane damage and red algal tides on the coast, and wildfire everywhere. \n\n\n\n\u201cYou can\u2019t get away, and yet you can\u2019t solve it by yourself either,\u201d said Jennifer Marlon, a research scientist at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies whose work includes studying climate change. \u201cWe\u2019re seeing more flooding. We\u2019re seeing more intense precipitation. When we do get rainfall, we\u2019re getting more of it and in a shorter time period. But that\u2019s really only happening in eastern U.S. and the Midwest and the north. The opposite is happening in Texas and the Southwest; it\u2019s becoming hotter and drier there.\u201d\n\n\n\nAs global temperatures have warmed and Earth\u2019s polar regions have become warmer, the changing temperature gradient between the poles and equator have affected the jet stream, which has resulted in more erratic weather around the world. \n\n\n\nThe Fourth National Climate Assessment, a report compiled from 13 federal agencies and released earlier this year, said that the South and the Midwest are the regions likely to suffer the largest losses from climate change, which threatens both urban and rural areas. \n\n\n\nIn addition to more extreme weather events, the South has become increasingly urbanized. Cities create a heat island effect, which compounds the effects of warming temperatures and more frequent heat waves. \n\n\n\nAuto- and industrial-generated air pollution combines with high humidity and temperatures to create major air quality problems.\n\n\n\nAnd communities at the urban-wildland interface also are at risk from wildfires, which have become more severe as a result of drought and decades of fire suppression. Add in the growing number of high-density residential structures, and we can expect more events like the 2016 Great Smoky Mountains wildfires, which killed 14 people, injured 134, destroyed more than 2,000 buildings in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, and burned more than 16,000 acres.\n\n\n\nConstruction of interstate gas pipelines along steep mountain slopes has resulted in widespread erosion and runoff during heavy rainstorms. \n\n\n\nRural communities also face steep challenges from climate change, especially in the agricultural and forest products industries. Those economic blows could compound the demographic and poverty challenges that already plague much of the rural South. \n\n\n\nAnd while we already see the growing effects of climate change happening now, the Fourth National Climate Assessment reports that it\u2019s only going to get worse: \u201cWhile some climate change impacts, such as sea level rise and extreme downpours, are being acutely felt now, others, like increasing exposure to dangerously high temperatures\u2014often accompanied by high humidity\u2014and new local diseases, are expected to become more significant in the coming decades.\u201d\n\n\n\nAs weather grows more chaotic, elected officials are slowly coming around. Republicans representing southern states see the effects on their constituents, and Democrats are increasingly elevating climate change as a priority. \n\n\n\nFreshman U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and progressive Democrats are rallying for the Green New Deal, a policy package that aims to shift all electricity generation to renewable sources, provide job training, and support those transitioning from coal and other fossil fuels. The idea already has proven popular enough to spawn a state-level spinoff in Virginia.\n\n\n\nThe costs of wind and solar projects have dramatically fallen in recent years and are economically competitive with fossil fuels. When building new facilities, large tech companies like Amazon and Google are requiring that most or all of their electricity come from renewable sources. These developments in the private sector are making it possible for some progressive state governments to pursue a larger shift to clean energy. \n\n\n\nAll of this is reason for hope, but it\u2019s still just a small step toward the global action that\u2019s needed. Marlon said that we can take individual action, too: by shifting our eating habits, more closely considering what we\u2019re buying, engaging with community and elected leaders on the issue.\n\n\n\nIn the days just before the winter solstice, western Virginia again saw heavy rain, compounded by a foot-and-a-half of melting snow. The event was not nearly as chaotic as Hurricane Michael, but roads again flooded in places I\u2019d seen closed a couple of months before. This is going to be a regular thing, I reckon.\n\n\n\nI\u2019d call it the new normal, but there\u2019s no normal anymore.