Friday, July 20, 2018

The Rising Tide

I have just begun a book called Extreme Cites, by Ashley Dawson. As I have discerned it thus far, its thesis is that the world's great coastal cities are destined for massive inundation and destruction because of rising sea levels. This likely now-irreversible fate is undergirded by the one of the central facts of contemporary capital: its rapacious appetite for continuous and unlimited growth. I won't bore you with the details except to recommend that you read the book.

Should you have neither the time nor the inclination, an article in The Guardian, about another book dealing only with American coastal inundation, can provide much useful information. It also explores the work of Harold Wanless, chair of the geology department at the University of Miami, who, in taking issue with the more conservative estimates of two to six feet sea-level rise over this century, has come to some damning conclusions about his city:
“The rate of sea level rise is currently doubling every seven years, and if it were to continue in this manner, Ponzi scheme style, we would have 205 feet of sea level rise by 2095,” he says. “And while I don’t think we are going to get that much water by the end of the century, I do think we have to take seriously the possibility that we could have something like 15 feet by then.”
Dig into geologic history and you discover this: when sea levels have risen in the past, they have usually not done so gradually, but rather in rapid surges, jumping as much as 50 feet over a short three centuries. Scientists call these events “meltwater pulses” because the near-biblical rise in the height of the ocean is directly correlated to the melting of ice and the process of deglaciation, the very events featured in the documentary footage Hal has got running on a screen above his head.
Fun fact:
From 1900 to 2000 the glacier on the screen retreated inward eight miles. From 2001 to 2010 it pulled back nine more; over a single decade the Jakobshavn glacier lost more ice than it had during the previous century. And then there is this film clip, recorded over 70 minutes, in which the glacier retreats a full mile across a calving face three miles wide. “This is why I believe we are witnessing the beginning of the largest meltwater pulse in modern human history,” Hal says.

A wealth of information and scientific studies demonstrates beyond doubt our headlong plunge toward disaster. Despite that, we argue incessantly over piddling and ineffective carbon taxes while ignoring the real work that mitigating disaster would require. It used to be said that knowledge is power. That is obviously no longer true as we choose to willfully, egregiously ignore that knowledge.

Our fate is all but sealed.

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