The New York Times seems to be suffering from multiple personality disorder. Last year, the number of stories it published that mentioned climate change or global warming dropped 40 per cent from 2012, this in the year the the paper closed its environment desk (nothing to see here), shut down its Green blog (nothing left to say here), reassigned its top environment reporters (nothing to do here), and gave a disproportionate amount of ink to climate-change deniers. Yet it remains capable of publishing, as it did this week, a hair-raising summary of the dangers this country is ignoring as climate change bears down upon it. “The Flood Next Time,” by Justin Gillis, is a clarion call to panic for anyone living near the Atlantic Ocean on America’s East Coast.
The subject will be familiar to Daily Impact readers who caught “Sea Water Rising at Norfolk, Va.” in 2010, and “Virginia, the State of Denial, Sinking” in 2012. But it is rare to see in the general media a cogent, clear-eyed summary of the danger. Especially in a newspaper that has virtually turned its back on one of the worst threats to human civilization, ever.
Nevertheless, there are the facts, laid out in excruciating detail. The world’s oceans have risen about eight inches in the past century, are rising now at a rate of about a foot a century, and the rate is increasing, so that they are now expected to rise three feet, or five, or more by the end of this century. Moreover, the coast from Maine to Florida is sinking, still subsiding to its level when the weight of the glaciers of the last Ice Age bore down the interior of the continent and bulged the coastal areas upward like the edge of a water bed when you lie down in the middle.
This incursion of seawater into some of the country’s most densely populated, priciest real estate is not something that is going to happen — it is happening. Sea level rise at the US Navy base near Norfolk, Virginia has been 14.5 inches, nearly twice the global average, during the last century, and is accelerating. The city is spending millions trying to fend off the water creeping into its neighborhoods and across its streets. It is appealing for help, with increasing desperation, to a state government whose doctrine is that there is no such thing as global warming, hence sea level increases are clearly impossible. The mayor of Norfolk, Paul Fraim, is talking openly of abandoning sections of the city.
In Norfolk, it’s no longer a matter of fearing the next hurricane; high tides and full moons are doing damage and interfering with traffic in some neighborhoods. Last fall, Mayor Fraim and other elected officials from Virginia’s shore communities berated the disengaged state and federal governments (the Virginia legislature refused to fund a study of the situation until references to climate change and sea-level rise were removed, and replaced with “frequent flooding.”
Mayor Fraim estimates the short-term costs of defending his city at well north of a billion dollars that he does not have. “Someone has to own this issue,” he said, “the water is coming.”
Now the New York Times appears to agree. Yet the citizens of the Titanic, in water up their ankles, are fervently debating who their next captain will be.