Labor Day weekend hasn’t been a holiday from fear along the East Coast — especially at the Jersey Shore, which is normally booming with tourists from the traditional end of summer vacation. As I write this, Tropical Storm Hermine is strengthening into a hurricane — just as it was when it battered central Florida on its meandering journey northward — and threatening to lash the Eastern Seaboard with harsh winds, pelting rain and epic tidal flooding. That scenario may not come to pass. Some models show Hermine drifting more out to sea, which would be welcome news for a state that still hasn’t 100 percent recovered from Superstorm Sandy four years ago.
But the hurricane is another reminder of how increasingly vulnerable our low-lying areas have become in a time of accelerating climate change. There are two issues here. First, tropical storms such as Hermine get their fuel from warm ocean water, and this weather system has strengthened rapidly not once, but twice — thanks to unnatural high water temperatures both in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. Those higher-than-average temperatures are the result of global warming. The second issue is rising sea levels, which can make every bad storm cause more flooding than it would have in the recent past.
So it was fitting that this weekend, the New York Times published a piece that looked in-depth at how rising ocean levels — once portrayed as a problem that might affect our children or maybe their children — are in fact already here and wreaking havoc on seaside communities. The message of the story was clear: That climate change is for real, and its impacts aren’t going away. Here’s an excerpt:
For decades, as the global warming created by human emissions caused land ice to melt and ocean water to expand, scientists warned that the accelerating rise of the sea would eventually imperil the United States’ coastline.
Now, those warnings are no longer theoretical: The inundation of the coast has begun. The sea has crept up to the point that a high tide and a brisk wind are all it takes to send water pouring into streets and homes. Federal scientists have documented a sharp jump in this nuisance flooding — often called “sunny-day flooding” — along both the East Coast and the Gulf Coast in recent years. The sea is now so near the brim in many places that they believe the problem is likely to worsen quickly. Shifts in the Pacific Ocean mean that the West Coast, partly spared over the past two decades, may be hit hard, too.
These tidal floods are often just a foot or two deep, but they can stop traffic, swamp basements, damage cars, kill lawns and forests, and poison wells with salt. Moreover, the high seas interfere with the drainage of storm water. In coastal regions, that compounds the damage from the increasingly heavy rains plaguing the country, like those that recently caused extensive flooding in Louisiana. Scientists say these rains are also a consequence of human greenhouse emissions.
“Once impacts become noticeable, they’re going to be upon you quickly,” said William V. Sweet, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Silver Spring, Md., who is among the leaders in research on coastal inundation. “It’s not a hundred years off — it’s now.”
As I’ve noted in this space before, rising sea levels are a special concern to me as a lifelong resident of Louisiana — there’s increasing evidence that much of the southern part of my state could become inundated later this century if steps aren’t taken to halt the advance of climate change. Indeed, we’ve already seen folks forced to flee one of Louisiana’s coastal enclaves — Isle de Jean Charles — because of higher sea levels in the Gulf. What’s frustrating is that climate change denial remains such a deep thread in the American political system — even now as we see the impacts from global warming in real time. The time for debate is clearly over. The time for more aggressive action is now.
Read the remarkable report from the New York Times on ongoing effects of climate change: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/04/science/flooding-of-coast-caused-by-global-warming-has-already-begun.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=photo-spot-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news
Learn more about the need for worldwide action on fossil fuels in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America: http://shop.benbellabooks.com/crude-justice
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