The time to do anything significant to forestall climate change passed three or four decades ago. It’s way too late now. Moreover, our present insults to the environment, still growing, will continue to worsen global warming for many decades. We have virtually no understanding of the enormity of the challenge, and never did, so there was never a snowball’s chance for an adequate response. Now all we can do is learn to live with the result of our apathy.
Here is what will happen to many coastal areas. This is what’s left of Holland Island, MD, where 360 people used to live. Obviously, nobody can live here anymore.
Here’s one minimal thing we should do:
Abandon all coastal areas that are not twenty feet above sea level. Does that sound radical? Will it still sound radical twenty years from now, when all those areas have been abandoned because nobody can live there? An expensive alternative is to build an enormous sea wall to that level. That’s (barely) above the altitude that would be flooded in a major storm, after we account for rising sea levels. We’ve had two such storms in recent years, and can expect worse ones, and they will come more often.
Abandon all coastal areas that
are not twenty feet above sea level.
That means that New Orleans will be uninhabitable. It means that many cities in Florida will have to be abandoned altogether. It means that sizeable parts of every coastal city will need to be abandoned, even here in hilly San Francisco. New York City, being immensely valuable real estate, will need a sea wall that would protect against storms worse than hurricane Sandy. These protections will take a long time to put in place and cost enormous amounts of money.
Here’s the Mississippi Delta, before and after:
Millions of people from such low-lying areas will need to be resettled in safer places, a project of gargantuan proportions. But we really have no choice. If we want to do it with the least disruption, cost, and human toll, we must start now. Failing to do something now is much the same as failing to do anything about the global warming that should have alarmed us forty years ago. It was stupid and enormously costly, and we have barely begun to understand what it will mean.
Some cities and the land they will lose with a five foot sea rise: Cambridge, MS, 26%; Charleston, SC, 19%; Miami Beach, FL, 94%; New Orleans, LA, 88%; St. Petersburg, FL, 32%.
Step one should be to disconnect all public services to the most vulnerable areas. All those houses at the edge of the water that Sandy trashed should be disconnected from water, electricity, and sewer, and their remains removed. The same should happen to similarly threatened places in every part of the US.
Step one should be to disconnect all
public services to the most vulnerable areas.
The news media and scientific journals have for years published maps showing what rising seas will mean for coastal areas. What they project has already begun to happen. The only question is how quickly and how much. It will be a disaster of unprecedented proportions. Virtually all coastal cities will lose large parts of their real estate. The realistic alternative is to take immediate steps to minimize the inevitable human disaster and cost that could seriously destabilize the country.
Here’s the Delta to Florida, red indicating inundation:
Abandoning these areas will mean that many millions of people will have to find a new place to live. The enormous expense and dislocation will seem less if we do it a little at a time starting now. If we don’t, millions of disaster survivors would need to be relocated during emergency conditions, but there wouldn’t be enough housing or money available.
Local and state governments must begin the task now.
In order to prepare, local and state governments must begin the task now. We have a few years in which to identify the most dangerous areas and devise programs to gradually abandon them and relocate their inhabitants, or protect them with sea walls. We have to get started. The alternative is to wait until it is too late. It’s a catastrophe we know is coming. Which would we rather do, start now and spread the cost and pain over a long period, or wait until disaster strikes, and risk drowning the economy as well as the land?