Sunday, April 03, 2011

When Global Warming Turns Real

Americans' belief in global warming may have fallen significantly in recent years but its inescapable signs are beginning to arrive and their complacency is yielding to anxious concern.

The U.S. is just getting its first taste of the lash in the form of sustained drought across the south and southwest, flooding in the northern midwest and the impacts of sea level rise on the eastern seaboard.

The Boston Globe warns that the state of Massachusetts is already fighting a losing battle with the sea:

SCITUATE — A piercing wail startled Gary and Paula Elsmore awake at 3 a.m. Paula knelt on the bed and peered out the upstairs bedroom window. In the blinding snow, she could barely make out a neighbor waving up at her frantically.
The ocean was coming.
Fierce seas had overtopped a sea wall about three blocks away, and the roiling water was now heading straight toward the Elsmores’ neighborhood.
“You could see the storm surge, it was bending all the backyard fences one way as it came in,’’ Paula Elsmore said of that late December night.
The Elsmores’ basement filled with 5 feet of water, and flames billowed into the dark sky from two nearby houses that flooded and caught fire. Their neighbors’ young children had to be evacuated from their house by a bucket loader. In all, some 400 homes were swamped.
The ocean’s fury is an omnipresent threat for the growing number of people who live at its edge. But accumulating scientific evidence suggests that our warming climate could cause sea levels to rise faster than previously thought, making storm surges like the one that pummeled Scituate more dangerous.
Several lines of research now indicate that a 3-foot global rise by 2100 is a plausible scenario, though some scientists forecast a smaller rise. In other words, what was once a problem for our great great-grandchildren is one our children could confront.

The article points to a 2007 survey that found waterfront protection in the greater Boston area needs urgent repairs, to the tune of about a third of a trillion dollars.  That's for one relatively small stretch of America's eastern seaboard.   Every other east coast state is in the same boat - or worse.

The warming atmosphere and the greater volume of water vapour it holds provides powerful fuel for major storms of increasing frequency and severity.  These storms amplify the already rising sea levels to produce storm surges that overwhelm sea walls and send salt water coursing inland.

A great many Americans may have been gullible enough to believe the stories that paint global warming as a hoax or, at worst, insignificant but they'll think twice when the truth starts getting delivered and it's going to come via their bank statements.

America's insurers long ago realized they can't afford to bear this sort of loss.  They stopped writing hurricane insurance years ago for the entire eastern seaboard extending well inland.   There is a massive amount of wealth tied up in an area that is now uninsurable for the greatest hazard they face.   Their federal and state governments are on the ropes, they can't afford to make good these losses particularly as they steadily increase.   How many times can any person reach into his own pocket and rebuild before he has to give up and leave?

Too little, too late.  The world could eliminate all carbon emissions tomorrow but the impacts of the existing emissions in the atmosphere would still continue atmospheric heating for at least another century.

No one is really sure yet when (not "if" but when) America's seaboard, or significant parts of it, will become uninhabitable but it's probably a generation away, two at the outside.   As that occurs, the United States will be vexed with a problem normally only seen in war torn countries - IDPs or internally displaced persons.  Sustained droughts will add to the IDP problem, particularly from the recently populated urban areas of the southwest.  At the same time the U.S. will have to confront the problem of waves of climate migrants from South and Central America.

What do you think this scenario holds in store for Canada?   There are going to be an awful lot of people in dire need of exactly what we have.  Meanwhile our leaders, the lot of them, are asleep at the switch as this train comes barreling down the track straight for us.  If we don't start weighing our choices soon, we may find that we wind up in a jam where we have no choice.


Dana said...

We have leaders?

Who knew?

I thought we only had politicians.

More and more I think the rest of life on planet earth will be much better off without homo sapiens.

Holly Stick said...

Th US should have the cultural memory of the Okies in the 1930s, who became internally displaced in their thousands, partly due to an environmental disaster. And more recently there were the people of New Orleans.

The Mound of Sound said...

I agree Holly yet I think we've become different people than we were in the 30's. We're more dependent on systems and infrastructure, much less resilient and self-sufficient. I suspect we're far more vulnerable to adversity and reversals than were our grandparents and their ancestors.

LMA said...

With all the extra moisture in the atmosphere, I'm pretty sure those of us living close to large bodies of water are going to face severe storms. We should all do what we can to prepare on an individual level, and realize that the infrastructure on which we depend may fail us. Perhaps powering down might help us realize that we don't need a lot of the stuff we consume. What I worry about the most is the way we are polluting our water and air, and destroying the ecosystems which give us life.

Saskboy said...

I don't look forward to the flood of climate refugees, mostly because I know how badly they're likely to be treated, and how helpless I may feel to do much for them aside from learning to share everything we have in a way that's not been seen in Canada since the late 1800s.