The talk about sea-level rise has been going on for years.
Some think storm surge is the main problem. After Hurricane Sandy, Donald Trump rejected the idea of building a barrier around Manhattan by saying, “Sorry, you’ll just have to get your mops and buckets ready.”
However, water surge from tropical storms isn’t the primary problem. The rising sea levels and high tides are the primary threat to coastal areas in the United States and around the world.
But many people don’t want to believe the inevitable: that higher tides will soon flood neighborhoods and cities just like they did in Key Largo last fall.
Nevertheless, most people seem to assume that before the sea fully invades, we will have some new magic technology to protect us.
That seems unlikely. In 2014, Business Insider estimated that $129 billion of real estate in Manhattan will be at risk of flooding merely from storm surge. The Army Corps of Engineers proposed a $119 billion sea barrier around Manhattan.
But Miami is the American city that faces the largest financial threat from rising water. All of South Florida, home to about 8 million people, is in jeopardy from the slow rise of the seas. And, of course, the region is extremely vulnerable to storm surge from more intense hurricanes that experts say the warming climate will generate.
Manhattan and Washington, D.C. are dry for now. President Trump seems to think that the nation’s financial and government capitals are safe for now. What he was ignoring is that the world’s ice sheets and glaciers are melting so quickly that many of the world’s major cities will be underwater sooner than most of us anticipate.
When is this incomprehensible catastrophe going to happen? Well, as melting accelerates, most scientists now understand that chronic flooding in major cities may happen within the next few decades.
The unchecked burning of fossil fuel has scientists estimating that by 2100 sea level may rise more than 6.5 feet, displacing 187 million people. This is not a mop and bucket scenario.
I recently spoke with Dr. Leo Hoffman, editor of the UK’s website Carbon Brief, about the scientific consensus of sea- level rise. Ocean currents may radically change, and melting permafrost may radically accelerate carbon and methane emissions.
Hoffman’s advice to people living on coastlines, “Either build defenses…or potentially move”.
In the UK there is much debate about inland flooding from increased rainfall. The Thames Barrier, built in the 1980s, is getting a massive workout to defend from storm surge.
A Dutch scientist has suggested damming the entire North Sea.
Such drastic and expensive projects would damage the environment, scientist say. However, the cost of doing nothing will be many times higher.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ wildly expensive plan to protect Manhattan may actually be a pittance compared to the flooding damage to United States real estate in the decades ahead.
Dr. Doreen Dupont is an At-Large Director of the Democratic Environmental Caucus of Florida, Chair of Environmental Activism of the Environmental Caucus of Sarasota County Democrats and an Al Gore trained Climate Reality Leader
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.