More Walls?

sea wall 1 “Every global shore touches the same ocean, and the ocean is rising.”

~ Benjamin Strauss and Scott Kulp

Flooding in London has been a problem since the city was first established in Roman times … The barrier protects central London against a storm surge … that can funnel the water up the Thames Estuary and cause surges of up to 3.5 metres. The planners assessed that in the absence of a barrier, such a surge could inundate 45 square miles (117 km2) of land, put hospitals, power stations and the London Underground out of action.

~ Wikipedia

One aspect of our inaction on climate change is the realization that regardless of how flawed global warming science is perceived to be by some, local and state governments are realizing that federal inaction will not stop the rising seas. The recent experience with Katrina and Sandy convinced many officials that climate change should be taken seriously and addressed locally.

Miami, Charleston, New York City and other places are exploring ways to protect themselves from both the public health and economic impacts of rising seas. Governments are also helping individuals in flood-prone areas move away. Brian Kahn notes, “The U.S. is slowly being gripped by a flooding crisis as seas rise and waterways overflow with ever more alarming frequency. An idea at the forefront for how to help Americans cope is so-called managed retreat, a process of moving away from affected areas and letting former neighborhoods return to nature.”

In Key West, the situation is more dire, according to Christopher Flavelle and Patricia Mazzei, “Officials in the Florida Keys announced what many coastal governments nationwide have long feared, but few have been willing to admit: As seas rise and flooding gets worse, not everyone can be saved … And in some places, it doesn’t even make sense to try.”

However, Gilbert Gaul reports that Charleston is willing to try, “Charleston is drowning in slow motion and soon will face an existential threat to its survival from rising seas and bigger, more powerful storms — this, even as development continues nearly unchecked … Charleston officials are preparing to rewrite the city’s master plan to deal with chronic flooding all across the 112-square-mile city … In mid-April, they endorsed an even more dramatic plan by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to wall-off the historic downtown with an 8-mile-long seawall that would cost nearly $2 billion.”

Yessenia Funes reported on a study that considered the near future, “’The key finding is that Florida is experiencing effects today, and those effects will become notably more substantial in 15 to 20 years,’ according to researcher Daniel Raimi … The situation is so bad for Miami, in particular, that the report notes the city ‘faces the largest risk of any major coastal city in the world’ because of the value of its coastal property … ‘when it comes to expensive real estate, Miami is fucked.’”

Anne Barnard has reported on New York’s plans prepared by the Corps of Engineers, “The Corps’s barrier designs aim to address only storm surges. They would not counter two other climate-related threats — flooding from high tides and storm runoff — and they could trap sewage and toxins, which would threaten the nascent ecological revival of New York’s waterways … The Corps estimates the wall to cost $119 billion, and would take 25 years to build.” Barnard highlighted critic Kimberly Ong’s problem when it rains, “New York’s storm water and sewage system can back up and push waste into waterways. A big barrier … could trap that sludge closer to shore …. We’d essentially be sitting in a bathtub of our own excrement.”

Gaul notes similar concerns for Charleston’s wall, quoting researcher Robert Young who contends a seawall won’t stop flooding in Charleston and may give homeowners a false sense of security. For those and other reasons, he calls it “a big wall of distraction.”

It’s interesting that the failure of the federal government to address these concerns raised by global warming mirrors the federal government’s inaction and flawed response to the COVID pandemic, leaving state and local governments to try to address global issues.

And it’s ironic that the idea of giant barrier walls to solve our problems with climate change mirrors our federal response to immigration problems. Maybe it is all just “a big wall of distraction.”

“All in all it’s just another brick in the wall.
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall.”

                                                                ~ Pink Floyd

Additional information:

Anne Barnard, The $119 Billion Sea Wall That Could Defend New York … or Not, Jan. 17, 2020, The New York Times

Christopher Flavelle and Patricia Mazzei, Florida Keys Deliver a Hard Message: As Seas Rise, Some Places Can’t Be Saved, New York Times, Dec. 4, 2019

Yessenia Funes, Miami Is Fucked, 2/03/20, Earther

Gilbert M. Gaul, Fortress Charleston: Will Walling Off the City Hold Back the Waters?, May 5, 2020, YaleEnvironment360

Brian Kahn, Americans Are Already Moving Away From the Rising Water’s Edge, 10/11/19, Earther Newsletter

Benjamin Strauss and Scott Kulp, 20 Countries Most at Risk From Sea Level Rise, September 25 2014, The Weather Channel

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