If this week’s alarming report on rising sea levels doesn’t get everyone’s attention, it’s hard to see what will, short of bodies floating in the water. Scientists reported on Monday that the oceans are rising at the fastest rate in 28 centuries – since the founding of ancient Rome – and that flooding is increasing more frequently in coastal cities and will only get worse.
Isn’t it time to be serious? The scientists make a credible case that the cause is human activity, but it’s not even necessary to accept that to understand that rising seas are a fact – for whatever reason – and they portend expensive, life-altering calamities.
Two critical things need to happen if humanity is to respond most effectively to the threat. Defensively, coastal cities such as Miami Beach, Fla.; Charleston, S.C.; Norfolk, Va.; and New York City need to buffer themselves against the coming tide. The need for that has already been documented.
In Charleston, for example, the number of flood days has increased to 219 in recent years from just 34 in 2005, based on measurements of a tide gauge. Other cities, including Annapolis, Md., and Key West, Fla., have also seen dramatic increases in the number of flood days. Climate Central, a research organization in Princeton, N.J., has calculated that about three-quarters of tidal flood days along the East Coast are occurring because of rising sea levels caused by human-driven carbon dioxide emissions.
The consequences of warming are already being felt and will, experts say, inevitably become worse before humans have any chance even to slow the pace of climate change. It will be crucial to prepare.
But Americans, and the world, owe it to future generations to acknowledge that their activities are causing much of this problem and to act accordingly. Fundamentally, that means moving away from carbon-based fuels and to renewable sources, including wind, sun and even sea.
This is an inevitable shift, since other resources – coal, oil, natural gas – are finite. Solar and wind energy are renewable, although reliability varies. The technology for harnessing wind and solar on a large scale is still being developed, but the technology will improve, as is always the case, creating greater efficiency and reliability and lowering the cost. This is going to happen. The question is how quickly and, clearly, faster is better.
That will be good for mankind and it will be good for Western New York, too. Not only is this one of the windiest places in the Northeast and already home to wind farms taking advantage of the power provided by air movement, but Buffalo is about to become home to the largest solar manufacturing plant in the Western Hemisphere. Those are critical technologies to develop and to refine if the world is to turn back from the kind of crises that a warming climate not only threatens, but is already producing.
The naysayers remain, and probably always will. No amount of evidence will change those minds. Some of those in denial, like Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., are particularly rabid in their insistence that the doubters are right and the vast majority of scientists are wrong. It’s time to leave them behind.
When experts with credibility report that seas are not only rising, but rising faster than they have since before Jesus walked the Earth, then it’s time to be done with those who are so invested in denial that they risk the well-being of millions of people.
Instead, governments and businesses must get on with the urgent task of protecting the coastal populations at increasing risk and acting, finally, in the interests of our descendants who will praise or curse their forebears who either acted to protect the planet or who, selfishly and against all evidence, chose to do nothing.