Posted by: Bruce Allen | July 11, 2018

Sea Level Rise: Global Warming at its Worst

© Bruce Allen.    July 11, 2018 


Global warming chart CO2

The good news is that we really no longer need to concern ourselves about how to avoid global warming and its attendant shocks. The bad news is that it’s already here. The Anthropogenic Age, the brief historical slice of time when man ruled the Earth and tried to destroy it, is here, for now. Even if global carbon emissions were cut to zero today, global temperatures will continue to increase for the next 50 years. Capital-W Warming’s effect on the melting of the polar ice caps and glaciers, and the attendant rise in sea levels across the globe, is already assured. Populations will need to change their approach to this looming slow-motion catastrophe from one of benign neglect to one of organized relocation. Any thought of building seawalls only delays the crisis or moves it somewhere else.

The challenges for people everywhere are daunting. First and foremost are the impending changes coming to our coastal cities, which are losing the fight against sea level rise. One of the ironies of all this is that the “sinking” of assets into prime waterfront real estate in major coastal cities means that when the inevitable rise in sea levels occurs—say, six feet by 2050, on its way to anywhere from 20 to 200 feet if you believe what you read—it will have a disproportionately negative impact on those one percenters who’ve rigged the urban real estate game over the past 60 years, Urban Renewal having had a nicer ring to it than Negro Removal. Serves the bastards right building in floodplains. There is no way federal flood insurance money will be available to restore these properties, top to bottom, as anything other than as aquariums, museums built at great cost to an urban landscape that will no longer exist.

A partial list of cities for which great masses of prime and subprime real estate are going to disappear over the next 30 years includes Miami, Providence, New York, New Orleans, Charleston, Annapolis, Seattle, Boston, Tampa/St. Pete, London, Mumbai, Jakarta, Guangzhou, a third of Bangladesh, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Chicago; the list goes on and on. The discouraging part is that these losses are already baked into the environmental pie. There will have to be mass migrations away from these urban coastal areas, which will quickly become uninhabitable due, among other things, to saltwater intrusion into freshwater aquifers, ruining drinking water supplies for millions. There is also the problem of sewage disposal when cities are subsiding, built on limestone (Miami), or otherwise at or below sea level.

So our children and their children will need to learn to adapt to a world that is changing above and beneath them. It will have consequences on where they choose to live—both Chicago and Seattle, for our families, will have significant flooding issues—where they work, where they build their lives, where they spend their vacations. Rather than subduing the world, which we’ve done admirably for a few thousand years and aggressively for the past 150, we must now adapt to that world, which is beginning to make non-negotiable demands upon us. BTW, it matters that the world’s oceans are on their way to a pH low enough to prevent the calcium carbonate in mollusk shells from coalescing at all, which would lead to the rapid extinction of most shellfish species.

In the US, great areas of the southwest are, at the same time, at serious, perhaps inevitable risk of losing their ability to provide clean, safe, reliable drinking water to their populations; there will be more migrations from states like Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, California, etc., due to heat and a lack of water for agricultural and drinking supplies. I expect these migrations to head north, into the northern US and Canada to areas where plentiful supplies of both groundwater and surface water exist. Away from saltwater. Away-ish from killing summer heat. Between floods and water shortages there will be a major demand for property in these northern locales. There will also be an enormous loss of agricultural production, most especially in central California.

The possibility exists in this altered future, due to massive circulation patterns of Atlantic water and air currents, for western Europe to begin experiencing hugely cold winters. This, I will believe when I see it, which I won’t. The other issues are at once more frightening and more immediate.

So, while the world fiddlefarts around with stuff like tariffs and building islands in the South China Sea, in the context of macroeconomic systems that depend upon growth for vitality, the globe is heating and melting on a logarithmic scale. A book I read on the subject recently (Extreme Cities, by Ashley Dawson) suggested it would take global resource re-allocations on the order of $20 trillion to go from killing ourselves as a species to saving ourselves. I don’t believe the current, deliberately shortsighted “leadership” in Washington would appropriate twenty dollars for this purpose.

What to conclude from this pile of facts? Things will be different 50 years from now than they are today. We already knew that, we are just mostly unaware of how different they will be. Our children, our grandchildren will be involved daily in measures to adapt to environmental damage, on a planetary scale, caused largely by our generation. In the United States, this will occur under an astonishing level of public debt and crumbling infrastructure. We will have left them a world worse than the one we inherited from our parents. We will have failed as stewards, and they will have every right to resent us for our venality.

Climate change has environmental, social, political, economic and other non-pecuniary impacts. In economics, we refer to these as “externalities.” These are the side-effects of corporate capitalism that are not accounted for in balance sheets, that are inflicted upon communities and environments that support large bastions of capitalism. In the U.S., these include, but are not limited to, pollution of water, air and soil, extreme social stratification, the dislocation of poor people to cheaper, more dangerous living environments with more predictable health problems caused by politicians and corporations that are not only not required to reimburse the world for these identifiable costs but are subsidized by tax dollars for doing so. In Washington, we presently watch the EPA being dismantled on the altar of “job-killing regulations.”

Hogwash. In a sense, there are two kinds of people—those who give a rip about externalities and those who don’t. Liberals and conservatives. Democrats and Republicans. Not that it really matters anyway. As an old friend, an ex-cop on a fake disability, said when I jokingly criticized him (in 1976) for keeping his house at 80° in the winter and 68° in the summer, “We’re all gonna run out at the same time anyway.” He was right then, and he’s right now. It’s a pity, but it’s thinking like that which has brought us to this point.


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