No More Warnings: the Results of Climate Change Are Here

Candice Gaukel Andrews September 6, 2016 13
Sea-level rise due to climate change causes coastal U.S. cities to be vulnerable to severe and more frequent flooding. Despite all the warnings, we continued to live and build in regions likely to be submerged. ©Bart Everson, flickr

U.S. coastal cities are vulnerable to severe and more frequent flooding due to sea-level rise caused by climate change. Despite warnings, we build in regions likely to be submerged. ©Bart Everson, flickr

Close your eyes and picture a world with no more dire warnings about climate change and what will happen if we do nothing to stem its tide. Envision seeing no more graphs of the projected spread of CO2 emissions, illustrated by neon swirls. Imagine no more hearing about research studies that use computer models to forecast sea-level rise.

Now open your eyes. That world is here.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, we haven’t entered into a kinder, gentler era. A world without climate change warnings is here because the time for warnings is over. We’ve crossed the line into a new reality.

The first mammal to go extinct due to climate change has been documented. The location of the North Pole has already moved. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef isn’t just threatened—50 percent is dead or dying and 93 percent is bleached. The results of human-caused, rapid climate change are no longer just a worst-case scenario for a scary future waiting for us around the bend. They are our news-of-the-day headlines.

No wall will keep our own refugees out

Bleaching caused by climate change has killed vast portions of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. ©Matt Kieffer, flickr

Bleaching caused by climate change has killed vast portions of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. ©Matt Kieffer, flickr

Now, our nation’s first set of climate refugees has been identified. They come from the Isle de Jean Charles, a spit of land connected to Louisiana by bridge. In January 2016, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced grants totaling $1 billion in 13 states to help communities adapt to climate change, by building stronger levees, dams and drainage systems. Of that money, $48 million is slated to go to Isle de Jean Charles.

However, the Isle de Jean Charles grant marks a milestone: it is the first allocation of federal tax dollars designated for moving an entire neighborhood struggling with the impacts of climate change. Under the grant’s terms, island residents are to be resettled to drier land and a locality that as of now does not exist. All funds have to be spent by 2022.

Louisiana is not the only place with climate change refugees or soon-to-become refugees. The inundation of all of our coasts has begun. According to an article in The New York Times on September 3, 2016, increased tidal flooding in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is forcing the city to spend millions fixing battered roads and drains—and, at times, to send out giant vacuum trucks to suck saltwater off the streets. In Miami Beach, local fees have been increased to finance a $400 million plan that includes raising streets, installing pumps and elevating sea walls.

Over the past decade, human-caused climate change is to blame for three-quarters of coastal flooding events. ©Tobin, flickr

Over the past decade, human-caused climate change is to blame for three-quarters of coastal flooding events. ©Tobin, flickr

Things aren’t much better on the West Coast. The Pacific Ocean will rise quickly off states such as California and Oregon, now that El Nino, a climate pattern that previously had pushed billions of gallons of water toward Asia, is ending.

No acts of Congress to ensure our national security

On the East Coast, in Norfolk, Virginia, with a population close to 250,000, it’s calculated that $1.2 billion is needed to guard against flooding—or about $5,000 per person in the city.

At Naval Station Norfolk, the world’s largest naval base, the Pentagon has constructed floodgates and other protective measures at some facilities. But efforts by the military to develop broader plans to deal with the consequences of climate change have met fierce resistance in Congress. This summer, an attempt by the Pentagon to appoint officers to take charge of climate resilience resulted in a House vote prohibiting taxpayer money from being spent on the program. Ken Buck, a Republican congressman from Colorado, recently called one military proposal part of a “radical climate change agenda.”

At Naval Base Norfolk, the largest naval operation in the world, the land is sinking as sea levels are rising. ©Kevin Coles, flickr

At Naval Base Norfolk, the land is sinking as sea levels are rising. ©Kevin Coles, flickr

That stance is ironic, as the nation’s capital isn’t immune. Just north of Washington, D.C., the Potomac River turns into a tidal estuary as it flows toward Chesapeake Bay to the south. Since 2001, the average number of days a year the Potomac is above the flood threshold is 25—up from five before 1971.

In 2010, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began a $4.1 million project to improve flood protection for Constitution Avenue and the Federal Triangle area—home of the Internal Revenue Service, the departments of Justice and Commerce, and the National Archives. The corps is building a 380-foot-long, nine-foot-tall barrier across 17th Street near the Washington Monument.

However, a huge earthen wall—built in the 1930s on the north side of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool—still needs to be raised by up to 3.5 feet. But Congress hasn’t approved the $7.1 million needed to finish it.

No time machine

I wish I had a machine that would allow me to travel back in time. If I could go back 50 years, I would protest harder against actions that increased atmospheric CO2, I would speak louder to defeat laws that whittled away at our clean water and clean air, and I would write more passionate letters to more lawmakers in defense of our planet.

Now that the effects of rapid climate change are here, some places will just have to be abandoned. ©Jakob Lawitzki, flickr

Now that the effects of rapid climate change are here, some places will just have to be abandoned. ©Jakob Lawitzki, flickr

I know I wouldn’t set that machine for 50 years into the future. I wouldn’t have an answer for those curious yet-to-be-born people, who would ask me why when this generation had so many warnings about the risks of human-caused climate change, we didn’t listen.

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,

Candy

13 Comments »

  1. Jon E. Hove September 23, 2016 at 1:42 am - Reply

    Important new report: The Sky’s Limit: Why the Paris Climate Goals Require a Managed Decline of Fossil Fuel Production. Abstract and full download (PDF) here: http://priceofoil.org/2016/09/22/the-skys-limit-report/

    A new study released by Oil Change International, in partnership with 14 organizations from around the world, scientifically grounds the growing movement to keep carbon in the ground by revealing the need to stop all new fossil fuel infrastructure and industry expansion. It focuses on the potential carbon emissions from developed reserves – where the wells are already drilled, the pits dug, and the pipelines, processing facilities, railways, and export terminals constructed.

  2. Jon E. Hove September 16, 2016 at 12:44 pm - Reply

    Candice, thanks for your comments in return. I have read the pages you mentioned, interesting reading.

    I see that what I wrote re. linearity in relation to climate models could have been written better. I think that instead of me trying to explain more here 😉 I’ll just give a link instead. What I meant in my previous comment is described in a paper in “Geophysical Research Letters” from June 2015, where the authors ask “What if there are hidden time bombs in the way that climate sensitivity works?” The paper is written by Jonah Bloch-Johnson, Raymond T. Pierrehumbert, and Dorian S. Abbot and discusses nonlinear feedbacks.

    The possibility of nonlinear feedbacks means we should raise our estimate of the likelihood of catastrophic climate change somewhat, and plan accordingly. Even when a great danger is unlikely, it’s still worth taking steps to avoid it.

    You or anyone else interested can read the abstract and get the full article here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2015GL064240/abstract
    Thanks again for all the articles and valuable info here on this site.

  3. Jon E. Hove September 13, 2016 at 10:38 am - Reply

    Well written, thanks for posting Candice. I am not a scientist but am trying to understand what is going on, and reading and absorbing all good info. I think more and more people realize that we are living in the middle of a rapid climate change. There is now a general consensus that climate change over the past century are due to human activities. But one thing I find disturbing and am curious about is that it seems most climate models assume that climate sensitivity is linear. That is, that temperatures will always move proportionally to the greenhouse gases added. In a linear model, if the carbon dioxide concentration doubles, the temperature would increase by twice some constant. However, we should not assume that sensitivity is linear. We should also not assume that we have a certain amount of ‘running room’ to emit carbon dioxide before we hit the danger zone. This is how the petroleum industry argues: we can (it seems) continue like now for 30-40 years or more. We might not have such a running room at all. Still, we go on emitting. What also might make a big difference is the release of Methane from Arctic soils. Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and the quantity leaking (also during the long Arctic winters) is according to some studies much greater than current climate models estimate. The danger is that not to far into the future we’ll discover that temperature is increasing much faster than we thought. We do see now that environmental change is happening rapidly and (it seems) exponentially. Ecosystem destruction is massive and it is all accelerating. We might be out of time, at the same time as institutional and governmental responsiveness is – despite many good things happening these days – rather lethargic. In the middle of all this: any and all factual and good info and discussions on these topics are extremely important.

  4. Brian Magee September 12, 2016 at 4:36 pm - Reply

    Thank you Candice I want to say that I enjoy your post because I am glad that there are people that are waking up to climate change. So please keep up the good work.

  5. Fernando Esquivel de Sola September 12, 2016 at 4:35 pm - Reply

    Thanks for posting our “Planets’ Reality Check” Candice Gaukel Andrews. Very good explanation with the respective links, I will spread it the best way possible through my contacts & network!

  6. Michael Austin September 12, 2016 at 11:22 am - Reply

    This is a good article, Candice, as is your custom. I read your stuff from time to time and it seems we share some philosophies and outlook.

    We’re also both around the same vintage. So, you also wrote something important with which I empathise:

    “I wish I had a machine that would allow me to travel back in time. If I could go back 50 years, I would protest harder against actions that increased atmospheric CO2, I would speak louder to defeat laws that whittled away at our clean water and clean air, and I would write more passionate letters to more lawmakers in defense of our planet.”

    *And* from long experience I don’t see any strong evidence that acting that way would have helped us. We’re a stubborn, ignorant species disconnected from our life support systems. The comparative few of us wishing we could have done different things, or done better things, or done more things to change the course of our experience wouldn’t have succeeded because we *are* so disconnected. In some respects our own nature as communities is beyond our own control.

    It looks, to me, like we’re no different than any other organism in that we always learn things the hard way.

  7. Thomas Sawyer September 6, 2016 at 7:34 am - Reply

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will agree, but Congress, like so many citizens cannot make the distinction between climate and regional weather conditions.

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