We know that melting icecaps, caused by climate change, are causing the world’s oceans to rise. But for those of us who don’t own beachfront property, it may be hard to fathom the consequences of a few feet of water. Still, recent extreme weather events like Hurricanes Sandy, Harvey and Irma have given some U.S. cities a hint of what might be in store. That’s the realization author Jeff Goodall came to when he visited lower Manhattan in the aftermath of Sandy.
“I went down there and was walking around the streets, you know,” Goodell remembers. “Seeing...people hauling soggy furniture out of their apartments and the smell, you can already smell the mold. And it was just, you know, it’s just very visceral feeling of what water can do to a place.
“One way to think about this is as a kind of dress rehearsal for sea level rise,” he goes on. “I mean, imagine this kind of water coming in and instead of just spending a couple of hours there and going out, the way it did with Sandy, it stayed in.”
That thought led Goodell to travel to a dozen countries to document sea level rise from the front lines. The result is his new book, ‘“The Water Will Come.”
But according to experts, it’s already here – oceans have risen by six to eight inches in recent decades, says Stanford’s Katharine Mach. “In the next 15 years, we might see another half foot of sea level rise -- a substantial increase in the rate at which the oceans are rising,” Mach warns.
Looking ahead to the year 2100, “the risk at that point is, best estimates around 1 to 4 feet of sea level rise globally. But if the ice sheets move faster rather than slower, that could be up to 8 feet at the global scale.”
Goodell calls that number “catastrophic,” adding, “There’s just no scenario in which a modern city can be prepared for that.”
Marco Krapels recently visited Puerto Rico with his foundation Empowered by Light, which supports renewable energy projects in vulnerable communities. While he reports that basically the island’s electrical grid has been wiped out, he says that does present an opportunity to lift its residents out of poverty.
The disaster “gives us a complete white canvas to rebuild the infrastructure that we need,” Krapels says, “Which is about empowering people to make their own energy; to store it, to use what they need and to sell what they don't need.”
Krapels thinks the federal government can best help the citizens of Puerto Rico by providing low-cost loans for them to purchase sustainable, renewably sourced energy systems.
“Puerto Rico is going to have sunshine for the next 5 billion years,” Krapel says, “That is not gonna run out!”
While Goodell acknowledges that moving to renewable power is important, he cautions that it may not be enough to save our coastlines. “I think there's a big fallacy out there that if we move quickly enough we can stop sea level rise…and that’s not the case,” Goodell says. “No matter how fast we move to renewable power we’re still gonna have sea level rise. We can change the trajectory of it; we can change the ultimate height of it, but we still have to have this conversation about dealing with it -- because we’re already too far down that path.”
– Anny Celsi