I Told You Not to Worry About the Climate

“This is the Captain speaking. First, let me make this absolutely clear: there is no reason to worry.”

On a mid-morning in May, the telephone rang in the modest home of the mayor of Tangier, a village of 470 people on tiny Tangier Island, 12 miles off the coast of Maryland in the Chesapeake Bay. It was the president of the United States calling. If you lived there, you would not know which to think more odd; that the president was calling James “Ooker” Eskridge, or that Ooker was in his house to take the call, on a fair-weather weekday, and not on the water crabbing (he had been warned the call was coming).

If you live anywhere else on the planet Earth, you will be hard put to decide which part of the ensuing conversation was the most strange.

The President had seen something on television, which is what stimulates his cumbersome thought processes. The piece on CNN documented the fact that Tangier Island was slowly but inevitably disappearing as the waters of the Bay responded to global climate change. In the mid-1800s, Tangier Island sprawled over 2,000 acres, and was home to watermelon farmers, dairymen and a variety of entrepreneurs other than watermen. By 1997, only 768 acres of land were left, 83 of them habitable. Today, the island is even smaller.

The island is losing ground because it is

  • sinking, in response to the retreat of the glaciers that until 10,000 years ago or so bore down on the crust of New England and bulged up the crust farther south;
  • being subjected to fiercer and more frequent storms;
  • beings immersed by water that is expanding because it is getting warmer every year, and that is being augments by melting glaciers and ice caps around the world. Geologists calculate that until around 1900, sea levels in the Chesapeake Bay rose at an average of three feet per thousand years, and have risen three feet in the one hundred years since. Tangier is now losing nine acres of land a year to erosion and rising tides.

All but the sinking are directly attributable to climate change, a consequence of human pollution. All of this has been known, confirmed and re-checked for many years now, so it is perhaps not surprising that a President who has not shown himself to be especially up-to-date on the problems of the real world would be moved, on learning of the island’s predicament, to reach out. To say what, one wonders. To offer sympathy? Or support? Federal aid for the inevitable migration of the inhabitants of the island to somewhere else?

None of the above. The president called the mayor to say, and I’m quoting here, “Don’t worry about it.” The island has been there for a long time, the President astutely observed, and he expressed his confidence that the island would still be there a long time from now. The mayor should not worry, but be happy.

So the water’s rising a hundred times faster than in previous millennia — don’t worry about it. So the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates that Tangier Island will be habitable for at most another 50 years, possibly as few as 20. Why would anyone worry?

But what is truly astonishing about this conversation — the part that is breath-stopping, jaw-dropping, vertigo-inducing, stupefying — is not the consummate ignorance of the President, with which we are all now familiar, but of the Mayor, who agrees with Trump that there is nothing to worry about because there is no such thing as climate change, and the consequent rising of the seas. “I’m out there on the water every day,” says Ooker, “and I don’t see it.”

Perhaps he marks the waterline on the outside of his boat every day, and seeing no change from day to day, has concluded that the water cannot be rising.   

By coincidence, in the same week Scientific American published a story about the struggle to save Deal Island, also in the Chesapeake Bay, from an identical onslaught by rising tides, a struggle complicated by the fact that the overwhelming majority of the inhabitants of Deal Island, just like those who live on Tangier Island — don’t believe in climate change.

It’s as if the captain of the Titanic had assembled the passengers, formed them up on the tilting deck, up to their asses in water on the silent, motionless, burbling ship and said, “Don’t you worry about a thing. This ship brought us here all the way from England and there’s no reason to think she won’t take us the rest of the way.”

Depressing enough. But what makes one truly suicidal is the way the passengers are cheering, and agreeing, and saying to each other, “That’s our kind of captain.”


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13 Responses to I Told You Not to Worry About the Climate

  1. Tom says:

    As for more information on sea level rise, might I recommend the work of Dredd who has been studying this in depth for years now. For example (from https://blogdredd.blogspot.com/2017/06/peering-into-world-of-science.html), do you know how the heat from the atmosphere is being absorbed by the ocean? One would naturally think that the surface is heating up the most.

    “a new analysis by three ocean scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory not only confirms that the extra heat has been going into the ocean, but it shows where. According to research by Veronica Nieves, Josh Willis, and Bill Patzert, the waters of the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean warmed significantly from 2003 to 2012. But the warming did not occur at the surface; it showed up below 10 meters (32 feet) in depth, and mostly between 100 to 300 meters (300 to 1,000 feet) below the sea surface. They published their results on July 9, 2015, in the journal Science.”

    Before the island is completely submerged, there may not be enough food to go around, since the rate at which our ability to grow crops (especially grain) is diminishing substantially each year due to exacerbated heat or lingering cold, droughts, floods, hail, wind damage, pest infestations, (crop) disease, soil erosion and depletion, and other climate change effects, oh and Monsanto.

    We have way too much methane going into the atmosphere now too. From seemorerocks today, this ~ 15 min video from Paul Beckwith:

    Arctic Methane & Jet Stream Disruption

    So, in short (and to quote Jason Box):

    “we’re fucked!”

  2. I’m not so sure why you find this so amazing. You live on the island, you spent a lot of money for a house or lot, why would it be in your economic interest to admit your investment was asinine? Are the Californians living on the quake line admitting they were idiots for paying a quarter mill for a future rubble pile? What about all those folks on the Florida coast?

    • Tom Lewis says:

      Understood. But at some point it stops being about investment and starts being about survival. On an island that’s down to a square mile, with maximum elevation of four feet, at the beginning of a hurricane sweason that is expected to be “active,” it’s about survival now.

    • Brian Miller says:

      James, that is spot on for most people. However, most of the families in the bay are people of very modest means. Most are descendants of families that have been there since the 1600-1700’s. It is difficult for them to imagine any other way of life. Which, I guess gets to the heart of Tom’s article, our blindness to things we know will kill us. We are all standing on the deck of the Titanic. Some of us are wisely saying we saw the iceberg and predicted what would happen. Some are saying there is no iceberg. And, some are saying that the iceberg is naturally occurring and we should just live with it. But, very few are clambering into the lifeboats (in this analogy).
      I’m aware of the need to get into the lifeboat but I dither at the bow. I live on a small farm that is fairly self-sustaining all within a modern context. But, it is that last qualifier that qualifies me as partially blind. I can squint and see what is coming due to human consumption of fossil fuels, yet I drive, take the occasional plane, buy clothes that are part of the global supply chain that is killing the planet. The poor folks on Tangier Island just want to keep crabbing. The threat to their way of life was sealed when we first started burning fossil fuels. It wouldn’t matter who they voted for or supported.

  3. Rob Rhodes says:

    I think what you describe here is an example of a population overwhelmingly still in the first stage of grief; denial. Even most people I know who intellectually accept AGW carry on consuming resources at five times the world average, 20 times the poor world and believe ‘They’ are doing something about it, ‘They’ will fix it, ‘They’ have to.

    Good to have you back, I hope we will hear more from you soon. Cheers.

  4. Ken Barrows says:

    Maybe they think Jesus will return before climate change does its thing

    • Dennis Mitchell says:

      Maybe Jesus will return because climate change does it’s thing. Plague, famine, earthquakes, and 100 pound hail, are close to the effects of climate change. (and will be be pissed!)

  5. Tom says:

    Why is my comment in extended moderation, Mr. Lewis?

    If the last line is too profane for you, please delete it and leave the rest of the comment. If you aren’t going to publish it at all, please e-mail me with an explanation (ie. guidelines). Thank you.

    You can lose this comment too, sir.

    • Tom Lewis says:

      Technology oncology. The system did not let me know there were any comments waiting. Sorry.

  6. Tom says:

    No worries about climate change – except starvation, disease and near term extinction.

    Natural-disaster declared in parts of South Dakota as severe drought and late frost destroy nearly $ 20 million in crops and counting


  7. R Bradbury says:

    Here is a funny comment from a global warming spoof denier: http://www.doomsteaddiner.net/blog/2017/06/14/greenie-techno-cornucopianism/#comment-6915

  8. Tom says:

    Record temps could damage tons of CA crops | Heat trips SF power grid – 43000 in dark


    “June 20, 2017: One thing that needs to be considered is not only the intense stress this long duration record setting heatwave is putting on the fragile power grid, but also the delicate crops that are trying to ripen in Central California. Many acres of fresh vegetables and fruits that supply the nation are in jeopardy as they are in the peak maturing phase and the record heat will interfere in that delicate ripening process.
    If crops are lost it could trigger a domino effect, causing a shortage and huge price increases at stores as supply will not be able to meet demand.”

  9. SomeoneInAsia says:

    I’ve actually little against those who deny the reality of anthropogenic climate change (and the limits to growth etc). As long as they live on a different planet from the one I live on.

    ‘cos then they can screw up their planet in whatever way they wish, and *I* won’t have to suffer for their idiocy.