Turning up the heat and sea level of climate politics

Turning up the heat and sea level of climate politics

May 14th, 2014 in Opinion Times

This undated handout photo provided by NASA shows the Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctic.

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

Want beachfront property but live hundreds of miles away?

Just sit tight, the seas are rising, and at least your children and grandchildren will be closer to the waterfront. Of course, they'll have to fend off thousands of people migrating to America's mid-section to avoid drowning as the sea level rises 10 feet over the next two centuries.

Two groups of scientists said Monday the collapse of large parts of the ice sheet in West Antarctica appears to have begun and is almost certainly unstoppable, with global warming accelerating the pace of the disintegration.

The finding, which had been feared by some scientists for decades, means that a rise in global sea level of up to 10 feet may now be inevitable. The rise may continue to be relatively slow for at least the next century or so, the scientists said, but sometime after that it will probably speed up so sharply as to become a crisis.

"This is really happening," Thomas P. Wagner told The New York Times. Wagner runs NASA's programs on polar ice and helped oversee some of the research. "There's nothing to stop it now. But you are still limited by the physics of how fast the ice can flow."

Nice. So what do the climate change deniers say now? Do they really believe 97 percent of scientists are lying and joining in on some wild conspiracy? Well, far-right Republican Marco Rubio of Florida, who on cue is calling any effort to limit carbon emissions "a devastating impact on our economy," certainly is saying that. He doesn't believe climate change is caused by humans.

Most of us know better. Most of us understand that the root cause of climate change is not simply because we humans are here. What has prompted the rising carbon that drives climate change is our absolute stubborn resistance to learn and plan for the basic law of physics -- action and reaction -- beyond anything involving profit.

In a reverse sort of way, however, Sen. Rubio is right that there will be "a devastating impact" on our economy.

We'll lose 15 percent of Florida, along with 3 million homes where 5.8 million people live and work. And we'll feel an effect from losing 17 percent of Louisiana [think oil and gas extraction and production], about 4 percent of South Carolina and nearly 7 percent of North Carolina. Georgia and Alabama, with just slivers of coastline, will lose about 1.6 percent and 1 percent of their land, respectively.

What about the 519 electric, nuclear and gas power plants and gas and oil production facilities tucked around the three coastline edges of our nation? They are on the coast and along our inlet waterways because they must have water to cool generators and run their processes. What kind of devastating cost will taxpayers face to relocate public power facilities and military bases like those in Norfolk, Va., which will be 78 percent flooded, and Savannah, Ga., which will be reduced to several islands when 40 percent of the city is underwater?

Whole cities will change. With just five feet of sea level increase -- now projected in decades to 100 years -- scientists anticipate the sea will flood 19 percent of Charleston, S.C.; 68 percent of Galveston, Texas; 20 percent of Miami; 88 percent of New Orleans; and 32 percent of St. Petersburg, Fla.

At 12 feet -- perhaps two to three centuries from now -- the oceans are expected to cover 42 percent of Charleston, 97 percent of Galveston, 73 percent of Miami and all of Miami Beach, 98 percent of New Orleans, 22 percent of New York City, 97 percent of Atlantic City, 49 percent of St. Petersburg, 32 percent of Tampa, 86 percent of Cambridge, Mass., and 37 percent of Boston. So much for our economy.

Scientists said the ice sheet is not melting because of warmer air temperatures, but because of the relatively warm water being pulled upward and toward the ice sheet by intensification of the winds around Antarctica.

Most scientists in the field see a connection between the stronger winds and human-caused global warming. Another factor may be the ozone hole over Antarctica, caused by an entirely different environmental problem, the human release of ozone-destroying gases. And, yes, some natural variation of climate may be an influence, too. Weather is complicated soup.

Conservative politicians seem to think we all are fools and we will parrot them rather than do our own due diligence and read the reports of scientists. Rubio thinks playing the cost card for emissions control will get him attention and votes.

But the real question is how can we afford to do nothing?