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.”