Politicians in the US have set up the topic of global climate change as a “fair and balanced” debate between two well-supported sides, with a willing assist from news media that love a good fight.
It’s nothing of the sort. You can quibble with the details but there’s just too much credible research piled up leading to the conclusionÂ that the wasteÂ products of modern human society are changing the world’s atmosphere, and not for the better.
Rather than jumping into the findings from the 90 something percent of scientists who understand this issue, the writer of a long, and very scary, story in New Yorker Magazine starts with the very personal story fromÂ an area of the country that will be heavily impacted by the rising tide: Miami-Dade County, Florida. For them, flooding from rising seas is a matter of when, not if.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, sea levels could rise by more than three feet by the end of this century. The United States Army Corps of Engineers projects that they could rise by as much as five feet; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts up to six and a half feet. According to Wanless [Hal Wanless, the chairman of the University of Miami’s geological-sciences department], all these projections are probably low. In his office, Wanless keeps a jar of meltwater he collected from the Greenland ice sheet. He likes to point out that there is plenty more where that came from.
“Many geologists, we’re looking at the possibility of a ten-to-thirty-foot range by the end of the century,” he told me.
In the Miami area “the average elevation is just six feet above sea level”. There are other cities along the American coasts in similar circumstances, not to mention a large part of the rest of the earth.
Many of the world’s largest cities sit along a coast, and all of them are, to one degree or another, threatened by rising seas. Entire countries are endangered–the Maldives, for instance, and the Marshall Islands. Globally, it’s estimated that a hundred million people live within three feet of mean high tide and another hundred million or so live within six feet of it. Hundreds of millions more live in areas likely to be affected by increasingly destructive storm surges.
Unfortunately, too many people in South Florida, and I suspect elsewhere, are counting on the rapid development of new technologies to protect coastal areas, or even reverse the impact of climate change.
“I think people are underestimating the incredible innovative imagination in the world of adaptive design,” Harvey Ruvin, the Clerk of the Courts of Miami-Dade County and the chairman of the county’s Sea Level Rise Task Force, said when I went to visit him in his office.
I’m not sure faith in an “incredible innovative imagination in the world of adaptive design” is going to be enough. Imagination will probably not spare the people of Miami and elsewhere from our incredibly short-sighted “leaders” who are more interested in the next election or next quarter’s profits.
Anyway, there is much more to this very complex issue, more than can be addressed even in a long article. But this one is a good overview and well worth your time. Maybe even send it to one of those politicians who still believe there are two sides to this issue.
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