Mike Tidwell writes: The presidential candidates decided not to speak about climate change, but climate change has decided to speak to them. And what is a thousand-mile-wide storm pushing 11 feet of water toward our country’s biggest population center saying just days before the election? It is this: we are all from New Orleans now. Climate change—through the measurable rise of sea levels and a documented increase in the intensity of Atlantic storms—has made 100 million Americans virtually as vulnerable to catastrophe as the victims of Hurricane Katrina were seven years ago.
Arriving atop fantastically warm water and aided by a full foot of sea-level rise during the last century, Hurricane Sandy is just the latest example of climate change’s impact on human society. Unless we rapidly phase out our use of fossil fuels, most Americans within shouting distance of an ocean will—in coming years—live behind the sort of massive levees and floodgates that mark Louisiana today.
The New York Academy Sciences has already begun examining the viability of three massive floodgates near the mouth of New York Harbor, not unlike the Thames River floodgate that protects London today. Another floodgate has been proposed for the Potomac River just south of Washington, fending against tsunami-like surge tides from future mega storms. Plus there will be levees—everywhere. Imagine the National Mall, Reagan National Airport and the Virginia suburbs—all well below sea level—at the mercy of “trust-us-they’ll-hold” levees maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Oceans worldwide are projected to rise as much as three more feet this century—much higher if the Greenland ice sheet melts away. Intense storms are already becoming much more common. These two factors together will in essence export the plight of New Orleans, bringing the Big Easy “bowl” effect here to New York City and Washington, as well as to Charleston, Miami, New York and other coastal cities. Assuming we want to keep living in these cities, we’ll have to build dikes and learn to exist beneath the surface of surrounding tidal bays, rivers and open seas—just like New Orleans.
Meanwhile, it’s not our imagination that hurricanes have grown more ferocious than in the past. Multiple scientific studies in the past few years have found that rising sea-surface temperatures linked to global warming are causing an increase in the number of stronger hurricanes. Sandy, right now, is approaching the east coast atop Atlantic sea-surface temperatures a full five degrees Fahrenheit above normal. [Continue reading…]