Pierre Tristam/Candide's Notebooks, June 29, 2006
The picture you see above is what Florida would look like if ocean levels were to rise eighteen to twenty feet, what with global warming cooking up the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. That’s Lake Okeechobee there in the current Florida, the big eye to the south-central part of the state, opening up into the Atlantic with the sea rise to create a new version of Italy’s boot, without much of a Sicily for consolation. I live further up the east coast on a chunk of beachside exurb between Daytona Beach and Jacksonville. That whole slice of luxury, diminished though it already is by the crowding of pac-man developments, would also disappear. Not a bad fate for this town of mine, one of those non-descript coalitions of subdivisions with neither center nor soul. But it’s home.
The eighteen-to-twenty-feet rise is actually a conservative estimate, given the latest global warming calculations. “The business-as-usual scenario yields an increase of about five degrees Fahrenheit of global warming during this century, while the alternative scenario yields an increase of less than two degrees Fahrenheit during the same period,” writes Jim Hansen in the latest issue of the New York Review of Books, where this watery Floridian postcard appears. (Hansen is the Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the space agency’s lead climatologist who won some notoriety in January when he told the New York Times that the Bush administration “tried to stop him from speaking out since he gave a lecture [in December 2005] calling for prompt reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming.” The New York Review article includes this delicious header: “His opinions are expressed here, he writes, ‘as personal views under the protection of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.’”)
Hanson continues, not reassuringly: “How much will sea level rise with five degrees of global warming? Here too, our best information comes from the Earth's history. The last time that the Earth was five degrees warmer was three million years ago, when sea level was about eighty feet higher. Eighty feet! In that case, the United States would lose most East Coast cities: Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, and Miami; indeed, practically the entire state of Florida would be under water. Fifty million people in the US live below that sea level. Other places would fare worse. China would have 250 million displaced persons. Bangladesh would produce 120 million refugees, practically the entire nation. India would lose the land of 150 million people.”
The only comfort is that the big rise won’t happen tomorrow. But it didn’t start yesterday. It started a few decades ago as the atmosphere began to warm, setting in motions the kind of climatic movements that aren’t reversible simply with an immediate reduction in greenhouse gases. It’s already too late for some of the damage, which is a matter of time, not of whether. Now it’s just a matter of how much rise is happening and will inevitably happen before it can be reversed, or slowed. In brief: we’re already in the phase in which things are getting much worse before they’ll get better, in some far distance. But we don’t yet know when they’ll get better, because we refuse to act on what we already know. The Bush administration refuses so much as to acknowledge that any damage is being caused at all. In essence, we’re cooking. We’re the proverbial frogs in the stew, a stew of our own making, and we’re global warming’s lost generation. The question is whether we’ll find it in our wiles and morals to do the right thing for our progenies. The answer so far is a big fat watery No the size of Lake Okeechobee gaping to the Atlantic.
Read Hansen’s full article here…