Sea Level Rise is Now! The State of Denial is Eroding

September 6th, 2016

Climate Change is real. It is happening and it is accelerating. There are many obvious indicators to see for anyone not holding a contrived political filter, those that still live in the rapidly eroding state of denial.

Sea level rise can now be seen in the present, not imagined decades down the line. Entire new terms are being created to describe the developing reality. “Sunny day floods” is one. A sunny day flood is something that happens to a coastal city or town when the sun is out.   Usually a flood was tied to heavy amounts of rain. Now, often, residents of coastal areas are walking through puddles and floods when there hasn’t been any rain.

These sunny day floods are from high tide flooding when the seawater either floods over the land or comes up through drainpipes as the ground has become saturated. Here is a map with pictures and charts showing how many sunny day floods have occurred in selected communities on the eastern seaboard of the U.S.

In the charts you will see that the sea level has increased by 10’’ since 1950. What that points out is that the increase has been so slow that it is hardly perceptible for anyone over a decade or two. That will soon no longer be the case. The rate of sea level rise from 1990-2010 is 2.5 times faster than it was from 1900 to 1990. And the rate of increase is increasing.

Another way to state the present reality is to note the constantly revised estimates of sea level rise from a wide global network of scientists and concerned observers. In 2000 the general consensus was that sea level could rise 3 feet by 2100. Now that is becoming the conservative estimate for 2050. There are some estimates from highly respected climate scientists that the sea level rise could be 10-15 feet by the latter third of the 21st century.

Why is this happening? Two reasons. First, ice on land is melting and flowing into the sea. This increases the amount of water in the ocean. Second, once ice becomes water in the ocean it heats up, which means that it expands.

It has been widely reported that the Arctic ice is in rapid melt and the rate of melt is increasing. This is what has been causing most of the sea level rise . If all the glaciers on Greenland were to melt, that is projected to add 21 feet to the current sea level. Unfortunately the early warning signs from Greenland show an increasing rate of melt. What cannot be clearly projected is how long that might take and if it can be reversed before all the glaciers are gone.

So what we know is that the sea level is rising. It is rising at an increasing rate. The glaciers are melting and at an increasing rate. The direction is clear and ominous. What is not known is how much and how fast. Most of humanity’s existence on earth coincidences with a long period of sea level stability and that is now changing. The range of long-term forecasts of sea level rise are 5-20 feet this century and perhaps that much again in the next century. I write this in Florida, where the mean elevation is 100 feet and all the coastal beach communities are mostly several feet above sea level. There will most likely not be any beaches  or barrier islands in this state by  2040. The highly touted Paris Accord of December 2015 will only marginally slow this rate of sea level rise. What is needed is a radical shift in the trajectory of how humans use energy, what kind of energy and how fast we can stop using any form of energy that is extracted from the ground.

In our book “This Spaceship Earth”, my co-author Tim Rumage and I suggest ways for humanity make this trajectory shift relative to developing a “Crew Consciousness”. Relative to sea level rise we wrote about the need to start down the path of Strategic Retreat, which is the planning for the relocation of tens of millions of humans away from many of the coastal areas that are threatened over the next decades. We need to start that planning now. The funding of beach replenishment, building of sea walls, raising of roads and homes, spending hundreds of millions of tax payer dollars on better pumps and water systems only buys time; a time measured in years and maybe two or three decades.

Fortunately a clear majority of Americans – variously polled from 60 to 70%- believe that climate change is real and is to some degree caused by human activity. So the number of people still living in the state of sea level rise denial is eroding. To those that still live in this fact free state, I say that you should put your money where your mouth is and buy beachfront property in Miami Beach. There will a lot of it for sale very soon and at very low prices.


[Note: this column is also appearing as a Crew Commentary at  This Spaceship Earth.]




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