Are climate change threats even worse than the sustainability experts warned us about? While some politicians who profit from the status quo continue to spread propaganda and deny the severity of environmental stress, climate scientists have migrated to far gloomier forecasts than we’ve become accustomed.
It is shocking and scary that this new generation of books on sustainability are quite different from the last generation on the same topic. Older books like Eaarth, Storms of My Grandchildren, The Earth is Flat,The World Until Yesterday, Hot, Flat and Crowded, and such that held out hope for the next generations aging gracefully as a planet. I’ve read dozens of books on many aspects of sustainability from agriculture to economics and political impact, all with some version of this theme. It is a scary warning but maybe not scary enough.
These new books like The Uninhabitable Earth and Losing Earth forecast a grossly worse future and lack of sustainability: massive death, migration, political upheaval and war; our worst nightmares.
I haven’t read the two latest books but I will soon. I wish everyone would. Yet we know from historical and archaeological accounts of past mass extinctions caused by environmental stress, major segments of the population continue to will deny the existence of the environmental threats until shortly before their mass deaths as a result of the tragedy. Islanders, for example, in past civilizations who starved after they chopped down and burned the last of trees needed to make canoes for fishing required to feed themselves. So what’s the point, really? We really need to ask the tougher questions about how we plan to deal with these new severe threats of climate change in the face of political denial of those in power who profit from its cause. How do we deal with those on our island who chop and burn trees when we really need to be conserving trees and growing forests?
On January 22, 2019 the U.S. Department of Defense issued a startling report of findings of the impact of climate change on the nation’s military bases. The issuance of report is required by law as part of the government appropriations process. Especially significant to us was that this new report clearly and decisively confirmed that more severe recurring flooding is a greater problem on the mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. than previous reports predicted. (The report includes Virginia Navy facilities but apparently not Dover AFB that is closest to us across the Delaware Bay). In other words, our observations of more severe flooding are not ‘in our heads’, as some politicians contend, but are actually documented at most military bases across the country.
One of the most significant findings of the report was that frequent flooding is now an issue at 2/3 of the nation’s military bases and is already costing us more money and loss of use. The flooding impact now is at the level that was previously forecast for 2040. In other words, flooding is a more serious problem than earlier forecasts. This confirms our anecdotal observations on the Delaware Bay coastal shoreline.
In the past week other news reports said that the President’s office intends to hide or challenge this information by offering positions of power to a few people who oppose the prevailing scientific views on climate change. We would have dismissed this as the usual political bantering except that now the official government report now seems to be removed from the Department of Defense web site.
Tomorrow my neighbors’ houses on Bayview Road at Money Island NJ will be torn down by a state contractor. Hardly a day goes by when someone doesn’t ask me “Why?” Yet even with as many times as I had to respond to this question, I still don’t have a neat concise answer. More disturbing, I don’t have an answer that I really believe. Some former homeowners here would say they were unable to handle the high costs associated with rising water levels. Others, like our mayor, call it “NJDEP terrorism” as the state threatened massive fines against us without offering any source of funds to address the new environmental challenges. At least a few of my former neighbors would say they were just scared away by what they saw happening around them.
I still wonder about the thought process that went into my neighbors’ thinking about selling and moving out that caused them to act differently when negotiating with the state compared to what they told me in person when we talked last. I was surprised and apparently the local government was equally surprised that 100% of the neighbors across the bridge elected to sell their properties. The overall buyout completion rate is 80%, according to NJ Blue Acres office, indicating that normally a few houses remain after a buyout. It might have had to do with the bridge itself that was badly corroded and appeared to be collapsing prior to the buyouts. Ironically, the bridge repair and seawall construction were completed after the buyouts were planned.
No doubt this is am emotional and sad time for many. Looking at the photos, I think of the happy times I’ve had as a guest in many of these neighbors houses in earlier times. I also think of the few neighbors who later blamed me for causing the state to acquire these houses. I try to not think too much about the bizarre events that led to death threats and even an attempt on my life by an angry neighbor and a politician for my role in trying to preserve this community.
After tomorrow only two houses will be left on Bayview road. My home office is one of the two and this site is proposed as a research/educational facility for the future. The only reason these two properties were spared the devastating impact of higher and more violent wave action is because we are protected by a half million dollar sea wall, sand berms, and more sturdy pilings that elevate the buildings.
Many other questions come up at a time like this. Is the state’s strategic retreat policy sound? (Surely we can’t afford to relocate our entire New Jersey coastal population inland!) Will we be besieged by another round of ‘disaster tourists’ after the tear downs (like after Sandy)? Or will the area’s use as a nature preserve bring positive change? Will the state step up it’s legal harassment against the two remaining homeowners? How will we cope with wilder wetter weather and the flooding ahead? What physical accommodations will be necessary to accommodate higher water levels and more damaging erosion? Will my floating barge-based infrastructure construction designs gradually become accepted under state regulations or will I continue to clash with the older dry land building codes? We just do not know the answers to these questions yet.
We do know that the future of Money Island is bright. It is the region’s second most productive seafood landing port. The local seafood industry is now entering a significant growth phase based on new technology and changing water conditions. Money Island remains an important research and recreational spot. Millions of dollars are being spent here to sustain and redevelop the area in a sustainable future.
We also know that we won’t be the last residential community to grapple with these strategic retreat questions related to the removal of homes. I just wish we weren’t among the first to have to figure out where to go from here.
This photograph of a cabin taken in 2017 shows part of a former residence constructed on dry land decades ago that was consumed by sea level rise and storms, and is now completely removed. Almost 100% of the lot is now below mean high tide line and the state has acquired the property for open space.
Yesterday the federal government of the United States released the most shocking and stark assessment of our lives, forecasting severe problems ahead in coming decades. The report is compiled by several different government agencies. Late Wednesday on the eve before Thanksgiving the Trump administration, apparently in an effort to minimize the shock to the American people, moved the scheduled release date of the report from December until late in the day on Black Friday. Now we understand why.
The findings and forecasts included in yesterday’s Fourth National Climate Assessment report are more stark and shocking than anything we’ve read so far. This blog post is a collection of excerpts from the report that most strongly affect us at the bay.
Findings most directly affecting us at the bay
“The assumption that current and future climate conditions will resemble the recent past is no longer valid”
“Global annually averaged surface air temperature has increased by about 1.8°F (1.0°C) over the last 115 years (1901–2016). This period is now the warmest in the history of modern civilization.”
“it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century“
“In addition to warming, many other aspects of global climate are changing, primarily in response to human activities.”
“Global average sea levels are expected to continue to rise—by at least several inches in the next 15 years and by 1–4 feet by 2100. A rise of as much as 8 feet by 2100 cannot be ruled out1. Sea level rise will be higher than the global average on the East and Gulf Coasts of the United States.”
“Heavy rainfall is increasing in intensity and frequency across the United States and globally and is expected to continue to increase. The largest observed changes in the United States have occurred in the Northeast.”
“over the next few decades (2021–2050), annual average temperatures are expected to rise by about 2.5°F for the United States”
“Without substantial and sustained global mitigation and regional adaptation efforts, climate change is expected to cause growing losses to American infrastructure and property and impede the rate of economic growth over this century.”
“While mitigation and adaptation efforts have expanded substantially in the last four years, they do not yet approach the scale considered necessary to avoid substantial damages to the economy, environment, and human health over the coming decades.”
“Rising temperatures, extreme heat, drought, wildfire on rangelands, and heavy downpours are expected to increasingly disrupt agricultural productivity in the United States. Expected increases in challenges to livestock health, declines in crop yields and quality, and changes in extreme events in the United States and abroad threaten rural livelihoods, sustainable food security, and price stability.”
“Our Nation’s aging and deteriorating infrastructure is further stressed by increases in heavy precipitation events, coastal flooding, heat, wildfires, and other extreme events, as well as changes to average precipitation and temperature. Without adaptation, climate change will continue to degrade infrastructure performance over the rest of the century, with the potential for cascading impacts that threaten our economy, national security, essential services, and health and well-being.
“Coastal communities and the ecosystems that support them are increasingly threatened by the impacts of climate change. Without significant reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions and regional adaptation measures, many coastal regions will be transformed by the latter part of this century, with impacts affecting other regions and sectors. Even in a future with lower greenhouse gas emissions, many communities are expected to suffer financial impacts as chronic high-tide flooding leads to higher costs and lower property values2.”
“Outdoor recreation, tourist economies, and quality of life are reliant on benefits provided by our natural environment that will be degraded by the impacts of climate change in many ways”
Baysave immediate response
Since its founding in 2010, Baysave has adopted and worked with earlier forecasts from government and academia that climate change is the world’s #1 greatest challenge. This issue has been at the core of our mission. But this new report issued by the the federal government is far more stark than we have realized and planned for in our strategic and operational guidelines to date. We can immediately conclude:
This report sets a new legal standard of care for management of public and private institutions. Those who state that they don’t ‘believe’ in human-caused climate change and subscribe to official government mitigation strategy expose themselves and their organizations to civil and perhaps criminal liability.
Our future is more bleak than we realized, and shocking disruptive change will come sooner than we realized.
The Trump administration’s handling of the release of this major news indicates that that there will be political wrangling ahead that will increase our strife and damage. We do not expect direct logical response by government.
The government officials who compiled this report have changed the path of this nation’s government and maybe the future of the world.
Baysave’s only logical response is to re-assess our business plans and strategy in light of this shocking new information.
1 This is the first admission by government that past forecasts have substantially under-estimated the impact of climate change. 2 This is a stark warning that the revenue base of east coast communities – real estate taxes – will be destroyed.
Sea level rise is causing erosion that has all but swallowed this once-thriving town on the shore of the Delaware Bay.
These pictures taken in March 2011 tell the story of the current state of Port Mahon, Delaware. Once a popular bayside community, now all that is left is a boat launch lamp accessible at low tide. At high tide the road is impassible.
Physical deterioration was evident in March at the beginning of the spring storm season. It appears that if the road is not heavily maintained, it may be completely washed away with a few months. (See the photos with broken asphalt).
These sobering photos were taken on March 23, 2011, on a calm overcast day with light rain. Since this was not a full moon or any other lunar cycle, I concluded that this was a normal high tide. We generally expect tide levels to increase over the spring.
Two watermen had pulled boats and were leaving Port Mahon Road as I entered. It was about an hour before high tide. I wondered if they knew that the road became impassable at high tide, but I drove ahead anyway. The deepest water was about six inches, which is about the maximum my little SUV can handle.
On the long drive back home, I reconsidered the possibilities of hardening to resist erosion (the strategy used by my local community in New Jersey) as compared to a strategic retreat (the strategy endorsed by the scientific community). My guess is that we’ll do everything possible to avoid addressing the issue in a responsible and effective manner.
Note added at republishing: This is a review of an older 2012 article explaining the ‘hotspot’ phenomena. Since then, the forecasts of water level rise were revised upwards by Rutgers and others.
For years, sea level rise (SLR) has seriously impacted communities along the mid-Atlantic seacoast of the United States. Governments and individual residents in this region are financially and politically consumed by the demands of battling the effects of storms and erosion. The effects of storms and erosion consumes governments and individual residents in this region, both financially and politically. While scientists were reporting SLR predictions of less than one millimeter per year, the mid-Atlantic east coast was struggling with the devastating effects of increasingly violent inundation that has even destroyed entire communities(1). The lingering discrepancy in public perception between scientific explanation and the actual effects of SLR left governments unsure of the appropriate response.
This June 2012 report published in Nature Climate Change by the U.S. Geologic Survey(2) is important for three major findings:
First, although SLR is expected to be 2 to 4 feet on a global basis by the end of this century, that rise is not expected to come at the same time in all locations. Prior to the publication of this report, researchers did not consider that climate warming could affect SLR differently over time and at different locations. The authors propose that differences in the rate of SLR may be observed due to land movements, the strength of ocean currents, water temperature, and salinity.
Second, the report confirmed that the North Atlantic coast – referred to as the “hotbed” – had 3 to 4 times the global average SLR and that the trend is accelerating. Portions of the highly populated middle Atlantic region from Norfolk, VA to Boston, MA, , have experienced up to 7 inches of water rise in the past decade.
Third, the article extrapolates the accelerating trend of SLR to predict dire impact in the next few decades. The authors predict that communities in the “hotbed” can expect to see another 8 to 11 inches of sea level rise. These already impaired communities will increasingly experience devastating effects from even milder storms of the future.
This article serves as a wake-up call to governments that were slow to recognize the impact of SLR in the communities within their jurisdiction. Environmentalists used the publication of this paper and related publicity by US. Coast Guard(3) to amplify their message that “ignorance of science is not going to be a defense that politicians can wield for much longer”(4).
1 This topic is important in Money Island, New Jersey where three of the closest communities – Thompson’s Beach, NJ, Sea Breeze NJ and Port Mahon DE – have all recently been evacuated. The Money Island, NJ community is now being evacuated becasue of sea level rise.
My work involves speaking with a wide range of people about observations in nature. I am clear that this is the largest issue affecting our lives, our community’s future and our society but this ‘heavy stuff’ is of course not the message of day-to-day communications. More likely, I get questions like “Why are the fish coming in later?” or “Why can’t I get a building permit?” These are not simple topics to discuss. Like many others in a similar position, I struggle to find the right words to use to communicate the extent of what I observe on a day-to-day basis here at the bayshore. I’ve had more formal training is science in general, and climate science in particular, than most people. Some call it indoctrination. I call it command of facts. But that’s not necessarily an advantage when it comes to leadership. A leader must engage a wide community group base but how is this possible on the issue of climate?
When I think about local media coverage like last June’s front page article in the Philadelphia Inquirer where I was one of several intelligent, educated and well-informed business owners (I know them all pretty well since this is such a small community) who deal with climate issues on a day-to-day basis at the core of their businesses. The writer chose to give more print and apparently did not make any attempt to fact check the statements of the local mayor who said “There is no sea-level rise, and it’s a bunch of hogwash”. The mayor admits that he has no training in science or climate issues. Yet his statement as given more prominence that the considerable better-informed sources. Why would a major newspaper allow this? Would they have printed the story the same if the mayor said the earth is flat or that the planet was created 5,000 years ago? If not, then what possible basis are we using to justify the public expression of these unchallenged false climate statements? This is just one example. I am also aware of a local book writer whose work in progress seems to give credence to climate deniers.
I know that certain words trigger an angry response, can cause our businesses to lose customers and may even cause us to lose government infrastructure funding. I’ve been physically assaulted and verbally threatened for my talk about climate-related issues. Yet I’ve been clear that climate denial is not a logically or legally defensible position. In fact I would be willing to be a witness for the prosecution in future cases that challenge climate change deniers.
In our local market dominated by trumpist thinking, even mention of the term “climate change” in print sets off angry responses. Other words like “strategic retreat”, “inundation”, “sea level rise”, “fact”, and even “science” itself are controversial.
So how then do I talk about the things I see and the things I can’t explain without an understanding of climate issues? It his latest book Thomas Friedman1 offers some suggestions from his conversations with Greenlanders:
“Just a few years ago,… but then something changed…”
“Wow, I’ve never seen that before…”
“Well, usually, but now I don’t know anymore…”
“We haven’t seen something like that since…”
That’s all climate-speak—“surpassing,” “highest,” “record,” “broken,” “biggest,” “longest.”
The fact is that the impact of climate change, acidification, sea level rise and warming temperatures affect me and my industry more than anything else. It would be nice to be able to talk about it.
1Friedman, Thomas L.. Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations (p. 162). Farrar, Straus and Giroux.