“When you are up to your ass in alligators, it’s difficult to remember that your initial objective was to drain the swamp”
The sign hung in the engineering grad student lounge at Georgia Tech in the 1970’s — to remind us aspiring engineers to keep focused and not get distracted from our objective. For most that meant getting through the next exam, but I found that the sentiment carried forward nicely into the real world, as well.
With global warming-induced sea level rise, I think about what our purpose is as a society.
Reuters columnist Luke Baker quotes Filippo Grandi from the World Economic Forum, “We must be prepared for a large surge of people moving against their will … I wouldn’t venture to talk about specific numbers, it’s too speculative, but certainly we’re talking about millions here.” Grandi continued, “Potential drivers include wildfires like those seen in Australia, rising sea levels affecting low-lying islands, the destruction of crops and livestock in sub-Saharan Africa and floods worldwide, not least in parts of the developed world.”
As noted in a Weather Channel report by Benjamin Strauss and Scott Kulp, “147 to 216 million people live on land that will be below sea level or regular flood levels by the end of the century, assuming emissions of heat-trapping gases continue on their current trend … By far the largest group — 41 to 63 million — lives in China … If the overall error factors we calculated for the U.S. apply globally, then 300 to 650 million people live on land that will be submerged or exposed to chronic flooding, by 2100, under current emission trends.”
Earther Staff writer Dharna Noor reports on US studies, “By the end of the century, sea level rise could force 13 million people to move away from the U.S. coasts. But it’s not just the coasts that will be affected — so will the places where those migrants end up.”
“The future the researchers predicted is not far away. In fact, it’s already here in some ways. Research published late last year shows that Americans are already retreating. Since 1989, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has bought out over 40,000 flood-prone households, often in the aftermath of a disaster.”
Earther writer Tessinia Funes quotes Daniel Raimi, a senior research associate at RFF, “The key finding is that Florida is experiencing effects today, and those effects will become notably more substantial in 15 to 20 years.” She continues, “People in this state have to worry about the very real, life-threatening risk from extreme heat, increasingly intense storms and downpours, and disease-spreading bugs. In total, climate change may kill 1,400 more Floridians by 2035… Yes, 2020 just started, but 2035 is closer than we think.”
Living in Colorado, I worry less about the direct impact of rising sea level than I do about air pollution and over-urbanization. But Noor quotes study leader Bistra Dilkina, “Our findings indicate that everybody should care about sea-level rise, whether they live on the coast or not … this is a global impact issue.”
Noor continues, “When migration occurs naturally, it is a great engine for economic activity and growth, but when migration is forced upon people, productivity falls and human and social capital are lost as communities are broken apart.”
So, in the near future we could see caravans of hundreds or thousands of displaced Floridians and other Gulf Coasters descending upon the higher ground in the middle of the country. The migration from the Caribbean and Central America could increase along with South Americans, Pacific Islanders and others.
Given our failure as a country to recognize and respond to the portent of climate change, I am pessimistic about our willingness to help the climate change migrants. I know we’ll ultimately grudgingly accept those with money and skills we require, but what about the rest?
As we deal with the crisis, let’s not forget that our initial objective as a country was “to create a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”
And watch out for those alligators.
Luke Baker, World Needs to Prepare for ‘Millions’ of Climate Displaced: U.N., January 21, 2020, Reuters Big Story 15
Yessenia Funes, Miami Is Fucked, 2/03/20, Earther
Dharna Noor, Climate Change Could Force Millions of Americans to Flee the Coast. AI Predicts Where They’ll Go, January 27, 2020, Earther
Benjamin Strauss and Scott Kulp, 20 Countries Most At Risk From Sea Level Rise, September 25 2014, The Weather Channel
Steve Tarlton, How High’s the Water, Momma? July 18, 2019, Writes of Nature