Blue Water Rising: It Could be Worse

Scientists are increasing their projections of how high sea level is going to rise, and how fast. (Photo by Mike Licht,

Scientists are increasing their projections of how high sea level is going to rise, and how fast. (Photo by Mike Licht,

The good news is that the mainstream media are beginning to report the bad news about climate change and rising sea levels. Witness these headlines from just the past few days:

  • Florida leads nation in property at risk from climate change” — The Miami Herald
  • U.S. Flood Risk Could Be Worse Than We Thought” — Time
  • Climate Change Will Cause Increased Flooding In Coastal Cities” — Forbes
  • The world’s most famous climate scientist just outlined an alarming scenario for our planet’s future” — The Washington Post

The bad news is that even now, the pundits cannot stop using the weasel words, false equivalencies and unsourced generalizations that give the politicians and other willfully ignorant people enough room to act as if nothing important is happening. That Florida property is not “at risk,” it’s doomed. It’s not that the flood risk “could be worse than we thought,” it’s going to be worse than we ever imagined. What James Hansen (and, by the way, 16 other world-renowned experts) outlined was not “an alarming scenario for our planet,” but a sentence of death and destruction for a large proportion of our people.

The Hansen study is one of three published in the past week defining the real and present danger of climate change, especially for the U.S. East Coast. Hansen and his colleagues conclude that ice-sheet melting and consequent sea-level rise are proceeding much faster than predicted just two years ago, with severe impacts including rising water, superstorms and slowing ocean currents to be expected now in a few decades, not, as previously suggested, by the end of the century.

Oddly, in this little survey of ours, it was Forbes, handbook to the Masters of the Universe, that did not mince words in its headline. The mincing is done in the article itself, which takes several technical paragraphs to get to the point, but says in sentence number two: “many people are skeptical of the new paper.” Really? How about naming some of them, or better yet, quoting them? (One quibble, cited later in the article, has to do with a technical point and does not seem to call into question the paper’s main assertion, which is that there is hell to pay, and soon.

The Forbes piece concludes with this ringing call to inaction:  “Even if the critics are right and the alarmist predictions from Hansen and colleagues aren’t correct, we’re not out of trouble.” (Note that Hansen’s predictions, which have been pretty much right since 1988, are still categorized here as “alarmist.” Definition: “someone who is considered to be exaggerating a danger and so causing needless worry or panic.”)

Another new study was the subject of the Time story U.S. Flood Risk Could Be Worse Than We Thought (although it is not clear who “we” are, or what we thought the risk was before we thought it could be worse). The study points out that coastal flooding comes from two directions: excess fresh water from heavy rains inland, running downhill toward the sea; and seawater piled up in a storm surge by a powerful cyclone, a surge that is pushed uphill as the storm comes ashore. Previously, these threats had been studied and quantified by two separate sets of experts. But what if the powerful storm that raised the surge also delivered heavy rain? At the same time? (Please do not laugh. If you get me started I will never finish this piece.) Turns out, it could be worse.

Thirdly, an outfit called the Risky Business Project (don’t laugh here either, it’s co-directed by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg) concludes that Florida has more real estate at risk from rising water and worse storm than any other state — $70 billion worth at risk by 2030, $150 billion by 2050. Two questions:

  • How come nothing is ever real to these guys until it’s measured in dollars? Pigheaded people are going to die in their multi-million-dollar waterfront homes, and then there’s going to be a diaspora of refugees trudging north, looking for a home. So we’re studying the impact on the tourist industry?
  • Did they say 2030? Most mortgages now in effect will still be in effect in 2030. Most of us have a good chance of still being alive in 2030. THAT WASN’T THE PLAN.

But I digress.

Water’s rising. Fresh water’s running out. Fires are burning. Droughts are spreading. Crops are failing. Storms are coming. What if they find out over at Time that it’s all happening at once? Then you’ll see the headline: “Climate Change: It could be Worse.”


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14 Responses to Blue Water Rising: It Could be Worse

  1. Apneaman says:

    Apparently the only way to scare the sheep is to mention, a threat to their property values. Who thinks about all the power plants (nuke, coal, gas) desalination plants, refineries, chemical plants and all the rest of the toxic industry that is very near sea level. The worlds oceans will end up like one massive Super Fund site.

    Map of US electrical facilities less than four feet above high tide.

  2. DenisB says:

    Well if you think this is bad try listening to Dr Guy Mcpherson who sadly I think is correct, human extinction by 2030

  3. Denis Frith says:

    These comments about the devastation that climate change will inevitably cause in the U.S. are illustrative to a degree about what is happening globally. Pacific islanders are already having to cope with the consequences of sea level rise. Many farming regions are finding it difficult to cope the increases in untimely droughts, floods and wild fires. Add to that the impact on the marine ecosystem due to ocean acidification and heating to gain understanding of what technological systems have done wrong in using fossil fuels without understanding the unintended consequences.

  4. Surly1 says:

    As someone who lives on the Atlantic coast, In one of the rare areas that happens to be subsiding the same time that sea levels are rising, I pay keen attention to these reports. As easy as it might be to beat up on the solons at Time magazine who have just discovered the mechanisms of coastal flooding (which any eight-year-old who lives on the coast could explain), their article only reflects the general consciousness of the great majority of people, most of whom are attending far more to The Daily Kardashian then to gloom and doom about climate change. the reason the so-called “alarmists” gets a bad press is that there is simply no plan B. So why annoy the plebs, who are going to die anyhow?

  5. Tom says:

    Another timely essay, Mr. Lewis – there’s so much impinging on business as usual that pretty much anything you write about from here on will be “timely.” Thanks for concentrating on the important stuff.

    Sea level rise has been said to be THE MOST IMPORTANT problem we face as a civilization. I don’t know about all that, but it certainly is one of the top 3 (5, 10?).

    As Dredd has pointed out, having done extensive writing on this subject, it won’t take much of Greenland and/or Antarctica to melt to have a catastrophic effect on coastlines, shipping and civilization; and it can happen very quickly (as evidenced by the historical ice core records – see Paul Beckwith videos on this). See (for one example concerning sea level rise):

    There’s no preparation going on regarding this – in fact, many victims of Super Storm or Hurricane Sandy a few years back STILL haven’t been able to rebuild due to money disbursement shenanigans by presidential candidate Christy.

    Now it’s becoming obvious why our infrastructure is being neglected from coast to coast – THEY KNOW WHAT’S COMING and it isn’t worth rebuilding much. Sure, they keep up the pretense of BAU by funding road projects and reconnecting neighborhoods to the electrical grid after a storm knocks out power, but it won’t be long until there is so much damage from climate change (among other factors) that this won’t be the case any longer. Perhaps the coming economic collapse will be the final straw. It’s hard to tell at this point.

  6. tagio says:

    Whether TPTB are intentionally neglecting infrastructure because “they know what is coming” or not, the fact is that the amount of cheap resources we would need to really address this issue don’t exist anymore. We probably can’t afford relocating all those people. If they don’t figure out how to relocate themselves over the next 10 years or so, it’s going to be one horrible nightmare. It would be wise for TPTB to at least close down the nuke facilities along the coast and remove as much of the spent fuel rods and other chemical toxic stuff as possible to higher ground before it all gets washed into the ocean, but even doing that little for future generations and remaining life on earth is going to panic everyone along the coast, so we can’t have that. Just doing that would “make it real,” and then what? Billions in property value and bank collateral wiped out as everyone suddenly catches on that all that stuff has no future value, massive anxiety, social chaos. Sure seems like we are actually just going to pretend, look the other way and let it all go to hell.

  7. Tom says:

    Portland, OR: US Gov Using Force to Clear Environment Guardians so Shell Oil Rig can Proceed to Arctic

    Currently, at the St. John’s Bridge in Portland, Oregon, environment guardians are suspended from the bridge by cables, and kayakers are trying to block the water. Their goal is to prevent a Shell oil rig from leaving town to go to the Arctic to start the process of extracting oil. Business press commentators have expressed excitement that warming climates are causing ice to melt, thus helping to clear the way to more “black gold”.

    The climbers and kayakers are letting all ships through except one, the massive Shell rig, which turned around this morning when it encountered the obstacle, and is currently waiting for the government to remove the guardians so it can head to the Arctic.

    At the moment, US government forces (Oregon State Police and US Coast Goard) have begun to forcefully extract the climbers and herd the kayakers out of the way, chasing them and hooking them with hooked poles, so that they can be arrested and charged with federal crimes, and the oil rig can proceed to the Arctic.

    What the government position comes down to is that it is a crime to protect the environment, and “legal” to irreparably harm it. However, this is one of those issues where what the government declares to be “legal” is irrelevant. Yes, for hundreds of years it was “legal” to kill native people and “illegal” – in fact, terrorism – to interfere with their being murdered. So what? Means nothing.

    On a related note, several of the climbers are of Native descent, and have commented that they and their ancestors have, over generations, watched and resisted the swift destruction of the environment by the European invaders. This marks another time when they are working to preserve the environment and the US government is using force against them to further its destruction.

    Simultaneously, annexation of Native land in Arizona is being carried out (under John McCain) for additional resource extraction.

  8. Kate says:

    NYC is planning to rebuild LaGuardia airport at a cost of billions. It’s at sea level.

    Are we dumber than a bag of bricks or just living in Delusionia?

  9. No worries. We’ll run out of food to feed everyone on the East Coast before Miami goes under.


  10. Tom says:

    This is from about 4 years ago, but since it describes the Antarctic ice sheet (and Greenland) and the physics behind the head-scratching, counter-intuitive, results, it’s worth the half hour to watch this video:
    Jerry Mitrovica, Harvard University

  11. Tom says:

    So we see now that it isn’t sea level rise everywhere at the same time and that sea levels will actually FALL in places like Greenland and Antarctica as they lose mass (melting ice) due both to a rebound effect of the land beneath the ice with all that weight removed and also due to the laws of physics (gravitational pull on the water around the massive ice sheets decreases as the ice is lost). We’ll have to start referring to it as sea level CHANGE.

    Of course this makes the likelihood of methane releases from the relatively shallow sea beds around Greenland that much more likely – ie. if sea level falls there, the once-frozen clathrates will be exposed to the air where they’ll break down and release the trapped methane within.

    • JR says:

      Methane clathrates by definition are not going to be ‘exposed to air’ since they’re already on the bottom of the ocean (and that’s not going to change).

      • Tom says:

        As the sea level around Greenland lowers with its melting ice sheets (see the video linked to above that describes this phenomena), some of the more shallow beds may become exposed or close enough that the ice free ocean will be absorbing sunlight rather than being reflected away.