An Excerpt from Before It's Gone: Stories from the Front Lines of Climate Change in Small-Town America

Jonathan Vigliotti

April 11, 2024


From CBS News national correspondent Jonathan Vigliotti, a “vivid” (Elizabeth Kolbert, Pulitzer Prize–winning author) and “stunning” (Booklist) character-driven call to action on our climate, told through the stories of the pioneering Americans working to persevere as leadership inaction risks the very survival of our heartland and hometowns.

BeforeItsGone.jpgDiscussion of the climate crisis has always suffered from a problem of abstraction. Data points and warnings of an overheated future struggle to break through the noise of everyday life. Deniers often portray climate solutions as inconvenient, expensive, and unnecessary. And many politicians, cloistered by status and focused always on their next election, do not yet see climate as a winning issue in the short run, so they don’t take any action at all. But climate change, and its devastating consequences, has kept apace whether we want to pay attention or not.

Before It’s Gone traces CBS News national correspondent Jonathan Vigliotti’s travels across the country, taking him to the frontlines of climate disaster and revealing the genuine impacts of climate change that countless Americans have already been forced to confront. From massive forest fires in California to hurricanes in Louisiana, receding coastlines in Massachusetts and devastated fisheries in Alaska, we learn that warnings of a future impacted by climate are no more; the climate catastrophe is already here.

The excerpt below comes from the end of the book's third chapter, "Nature Fights Back."




Paradise in the Crosshairs 

The towering welcome sign leading into Paradise, the one people driving from Chico passed by, looked like a page out of a family scrapbook—the kind with photos and keepsakes glued into a collage. The dark brown wooden structure, about 25 feet tall, was layered in colorful plaques of various shapes—the logos of the thirty-four different businesses and organizations that sponsored it. There was the Boys & Girls Clubs of the North Valley, the Ridge Coalition for Peace and Justice, the California Veterans Square Dance Association, the Quilters Guild, and the Men’s Garden Club, to name a few. Just looking at that sign, you got the impression the town was loved, and those who traveled beyond it for the first time were always pleasantly surprised to find a community that lived up to the endorsement. 

To locals, Paradise was known affectionately as the “The Ridge,” a nickname that caught on “no one remembers when but stuck ever since.” It was the kind of place you see in the kind of movies where a guy takes his girlfriend home to meet the parents: cue quirky shop owner, charmingly nosey neighbor, and nostalgic dive bar full of old friends from school. There was something for everyone here, and some things everyone liked, like Aunt Mabel’s General Store and the Black Bear Diner that was always packed, especially after high school football games. The Ridge was deceptively quaint. And I say “deceptively” because 30,000 people isn’t exactly quaint. For scale, that’s around the size of Beverley Hills, California; Fairbanks, Alaska; Bangor, Maine; and Ithaca, New York. Now imagine erasing one of them from the map. Homes, schools, churches, a hospital, restaurants, supermarkets, a coffee roaster, landscapers, a veterinary office, hotels, garden centers, daycares, fast-food joints, an auto body shop, clothing stores, a funeral parlor—one day they’re here, the next day they’re gone. On November 8, 2018, that’s exactly what happened. A total of 18,804 businesses and homes lost, thousands more damaged, and eighty-five people dead in what became at the time the country’s most destructive, and California’s deadliest, wildfire in a century. Survivors remember passing the welcome sign as they escaped that autumn morning. It, too, burned down, leaving only the stone slab it rose from. 

I never told you what the message on that welcome sign said, did I? 


It was written in bold gold lettering. In the months that followed the fire, a new, unendorsed sign was propped up. 




From BEFORE IT’S GONE by Jonathan Vigliotti. Copyright © 2024 by Jonathan Vigliotti.  Reprinted by permission of One Signal Publishers/Atria Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.


About the Author

Jonathan Vigliotti is an Emmy and Edward R. Murrow Award-winning CBS News national correspondent whose work has appeared on numerous platforms including CBS Sunday Morning , Face the Nation , 48 Hours , and more.

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