Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Sea Levels Rise While the GOP Remains in Denial

I've noted before the enormity of the problems that climate change and rising sea levels - two terms that are forbidden from use by the Virginia GOP - are creating for coastal Virginia.  In the world of the Virginia GOP, only the term "areas of repetitive flooding" is allowed.  The Virgina GOP, of course is not unique.  Similar denials of reality plague the GOP in North Carolina and other states as well.  And while the GOP and its Christofascist/Tea Party base refuse to face reality, cities and localities are stuck trying to devise ways to deal with the reality that the global climate is in fact changing and sea level rise and increased flooding is now the norm.  USA Today has an article that looks at the issue, with special emphasis on Norfolk, Virginia.  The issue is particularly relevant to me since the boyfriend and I live in a house that has flooded three times, causing us to expend large amounts of money to "flood proof" the house.  Here are story highlights:

 Flooding has become so common in this city, where water is the lifeblood, that residents talk about it in the supermarket. Home to the world's largest naval base, Norfolk sits on flat land — much of it filled-in marsh that's now at sea level and sinking. Add to that the sea-level rise from global warming, and the city faces what it deems a $1 billion-plus problem.

As the 10th part of its year-long series on climate change, USA TODAY traveled to Virginia's picturesque Tidewater region — bound by creeks, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay — to look at how rising sea levels are affecting America's coastal communities, where more than a third of its people and wealth reside.

The seas have risen and fallen before. What's new is the enormity of coastal development that will need to be protected, moved or abandoned. In this 21st century tale, an old fisherman isn't battling a large marlin (as in Ernest Hemingway's classic The Old Man and the Sea), but the cities are battling the seas.

"It's only going to get worse," says Benjamin Horton, professor at Rutgers University's Institute of Marine and Coastal Science. "The rate of sea-level rise could more than triple in the next century," he says. "We're talking about rates we haven't seen in 6,000 to 7,000 years."

Most large U.S. cities are coastal, and some, like Norfolk, Charleston, S.C., and Miami, already flood at lunar high tides. Others, including New Orleans and New York, have been devastated by flooding from storm surges, the damage of which was magnified by sea-level rise.

"Many areas wouldn't have flooded without sea-level rise," Horton says, referring to the havoc Superstorm Sandy caused last year in the Mid-Atlantic.

In the past 100 years, it has climbed about a foot or more in some U.S. cities because of ocean currents and land subsidence — 11 inches in New York and Boston, 12 in Charleston, 16 in Atlantic City, 18 in Norfolk and 25 in Galveston, Texas, according to a USA TODAY analysis of 2012 tide gauge data collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

How much higher will it go? Scientists don't know exactly but, depending on fossil fuel emissions, they project global sea level will rise about 1 foot to slightly more than 3 feet (or 39 inches) by 2100 . . . .

What's at stake aren't just beach McMansions for the rich but thousands of working-class homes as well as airports, military bases, seaports, power plants, oil refineries, bridges and highways.

"From a national security standpoint, the country has made huge investments, and those investments should be protected," says Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim, citing Norfolk Naval Station and the city's other military facilities. He says a major Category 2 hurricane could submerge his city, Virginia's second-largest, so it needs federal and state help because "it can't hold back the water on its own."

"There have been more coastal storms in the last decade than in the prior four decades combined," says Ronald Williams Jr., assistant city manager, adding there's also more frequent and rapid rainfall. He says the city was badly damaged by Hurricane Isabel in 2003, and after Nor'Ida's punch in 2009 it hired the Dutch engineering firm Fugro to identify solutions. The wish list: three new flood walls (the city already had one, built in 1970) and a new $650 million storm water management system.

The Defense Department is also involved. The Army Corps of Engineers did a three-year case study, released last month, that found Naval Station Norfolk's vital infrastructure won't survive the powerful storms and flooding expected in the latter half of this century. In another report this year, DOD said about 10% of its coastal facilities are at or near sea level and are "already vulnerable to flooding and inundation."

The Virginia Legislature ordered its own study but avoided using the potentially divisive terms "climate change" or "sea-level rise." In January, its "recurrent flooding" analysis, co-authored by Carl Hershner and Molly Mitchell of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, found sea level could rise more than average in Tidewater because of land subsidence — 1 to 2 feet by 2040 and 3 to nearly 8 feet by 2100.

Climate skeptics don't buy the global projections. "We don't know how much sea levels will rise or fall," says Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian research group funded partly by fossil fuel interests.
Michael Oppenheimer, geosciences professor at Princeton University, says there's little progress so far. "We're not even doing the cheap and easy stuff well," he says, citing the lack of early warning and evacuation plans. He cautions: "There's no final victory against the ocean."

What may help turn the tide, figuratively, is the coming surge in flood insurance costs, says Leonard Berry, director of the Florida Center for Environmental Studies at Florida Atlantic University. He says higher premiums might do more than hurricanes to change people's attitudes about living by the water.

"There will be a slow exodus" from the coasts as property values gradually sink, predicts oceanographer John Englander, author of High Tide on Main Street. By century's end, he says, sea-level rise could dramatically transform U.S. coastlines, pushing them inland by hundreds of feet.

The embrace of ignorance carries severe costs.  The Christofascist/Tea Party base of the GOP not only threatens religious liberty for others but also impede government from taking needed, reality based actions.  The GOP in its current form is a menace. 

Our home in the November 2009 Nor'Ida storm. Since then, the first floor has been waterproofed up to 3 feet from the floor, marble floors installed throughout the first floor for easy cleanup, a whole house generator installed (to run pumps), and we've added 3 large industrial sump pumps that can pump the equivalent of a swimming pool every hour against standing water.  The cost: well into the 6 figures.

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