For the better part of 15 years I've been following news of developments in climate change, anthropogenic global warming. I subscribe to these news aggregators that every day deliver to my inbox summaries of the latest reports on a host of topics including droughts, floods, sea level rise, global warming and heatwaves, severe storm events including hurricanes, tornadoes, typhoons, the freshwater crisis and the annual Asian monsoons. Where I can I try to go to the source articles, the research or at least the report summaries.
It's gotten to the point where I find very little climate change "news" to be had. Sure, when an iceberg the size of Prince Edward Island calves off the Larsen B Antarctic ice sheet, that's news - sort of. When research shows that, over the past thirty years, we've managed to trim the populations of other species, terrestrial and marine, by fully half, that's news - sort of. And yet even the most alarming research has no traction. It's straight down the Memory Hole in a matter of days, a couple of weeks at the outside.
Sea level rise is a metaphor for climate change developments generally. A paltry three millimetres a year, so what? A fraction of a degree Celsius, hardly enough to inspire any political unrest. Climate change is ideally suited, seemingly almost tailor made, for what's called "creeping normalcy." Until it actually costs us something or kills someone we know we pretty much accept it without a second thought. It becomes the new normal.
As Jared Diamond observes, creeping normalcy may not matter much to the general public but it's very important to one group, our political caste. It defines what they can get away with in this era of Everyday Low Taxes.
It's all about what you can get away with. That goes for the plebs too. We can get away not noticing. We can get away with the status quo as we imagine it. We don't want to see our taxes go up. Out of sight, out of mind. But I digress.
There is very little climate change "news" these days. There's nothing much new. It's just an incrementally worse version of what we had yesterday or last year. What we now get is what I think of as climate change "churn." We're churning over the same old stories and people just get bored with it. It becomes nearly impossible to discern the significance of the latest reports, what differentiates the newest research from what can appear to be the near identical research before it. Who can keep track of what's what?
There are occasional encouraging signs. The latest editorial in the Gainsville Sun is an example. Gradually, incrementally, the people of Florida are coming to realize that their state is in the cross hairs of global warming. And finally even the papers are beginning to point fingers - at the state's Republican leadership.
Coastal areas in Florida from Miami Beach to Cedar Key are already seeing effects such as sunny-day flooding and powerful storm surges, and conditions are likely to worsen. Even mid-range projections by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists put the seas around Florida up to 17 inches higher by 2030 and up to 5.5 feet higher by 2070.
Just three feet of sea level rise could force at least 1.2 million Floridians to leave low-lying communities for higher ground, according to one study cited in the article. But any Alachua County resident who dismisses climate change as a problem just affecting the wealthy owners of beachfront homes has another thing coming.
Long before low-lying parts of Florida are inundated, researchers project that coastal rivers and tidal creeks will see rapid increases in the frequency and duration of flooding. Rising sea levels can also cause saltwater intrusion in groundwater, threatening drinking water supplies.
Those leaving the coasts will have to go somewhere, stretching the resources of inland areas such as Alachua County. These areas at the same time will be coping with other impacts of climate change, such as shifting agricultural conditions and weather patterns.
Some public officials in Florida are facing the challenge, such as Miami Beach officials working to improve infrastructure to deal with flooding. But too many of the Republicans running the state and federal governments have refused to acknowledge the reality of climate change or do anything to prepare.
Other policy makers need to stop listening to climate change skeptics and starting looking at the scientific evidence. It shows rising seas will be a rising threat to the coastal areas of Florida and other parts of our state in the decades ahead. We all have a responsibility to reduce carbon emissions and prepare for the problems that can’t be prevented.
It's going to take a hell of a lot more than an editorial in the Gainsville Sun to shift public opinion among Floridians and their governor, Rick Scott, will still prohibit state employees from uttering the words "global warming." Of course, coming from a petro-state such as Canada, I'm not sure we have any reason to be smug.