A damaged sailboat lies in water in the aftermath of...

A damaged sailboat lies in water in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, near Punta Gorda, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) Credit: AP/Wilfredo Lee

Decisions have consequences.

And decisions compound in their consequences, layering atop one another, forcing us to make other decisions in their wake. Some are harder to execute because of choices made before, and living with them becomes more stressful. Until the next round of decision-making approaches, offering new opportunities to get it right — or wrong again.

Events like Hurricane Ian lay bare this process in ways both maddening and heartbreaking.

In the instant, as a brutal storm bears down, thousands of individuals have their own personal decisions to make — stay or evacuate. The instinct to hunker down, to protect your home, your life, the memories and realities of what you forged there, is strong. Professional advice is almost always to leave, to err on the side of caution, especially in this era of climate change and the rapidity with which storms can become even fiercer than anticipated.

Storms such as Ian don't respect this calculus of anguish, and individual will is no match for nature's ferocity. A decision to stay can bring terrible consequences for the decider — and sometimes for those who must determine whether a rescue is advisable, or even possible. Death tolls bear sad witness.

Most of us probably have an idea of what we would do in such a situation, based on our own experiences, comforting or unnerving as they might be. But it's worth noting that the worst storm experience many of us on Long Island have faced individually and as a region — 2012's superstorm Sandy — was no longer even a hurricane when it arrived here. Ian was close to a Category 5 when it hit Florida. Which is to say that personal experience might not be our best teacher in this case.

It's also worth noting that all of our personal decisions take place within a larger context of political decisions, made conscientiously or blithely, another element exposed by a storm like Ian.

Look, really look, at the photos from all over Florida. Check out the aerial footage of places like Fort Myers. The camera hovers over vast swaths of development now mangled or gone. It swoops along the barrier island there that functions much as Long Island's do, and the lens documents more devastation.

You see rows of empty lots with houses swallowed up, the streets and grids that no longer exist, and you see the water perilously close on both sides and the land so very flat between those shorelines, and you wonder what possessed anyone to think they could build safely there, and more astonishingly, why anyone would consider rebuilding there after Ian.

But they will. As they have many other times in many other places also ravaged in this way.

And you realize there was a cascade of decisions that erected the fragile framework on which all this is based. In Florida, that includes a decision by that state's legislature to approve a bill signed in 2011 by then-Gov. Rick Scott, now a U.S. senator, to remove state involvement in land use and development and return it to local authorities, despite warnings at the time that this was unwise. That kicked off a period of explosive growth and poor planning that gave many people the slice of heaven they were seeking — if by heaven we mean a waterfront view of an ocean that eventually will devour you.

What happened with Ian is not unique. We've seen this play out repeatedly in different parts of the country, some ravaged by wind, some by water, some by fire, others by some ghastly combination, people living in precarious places and paying for it.

Our decisions indeed have had consequences. It's time we start making better decisions.

Columnist Michael Dobie's opinions are his own.