[Marxism] Not if the Seas Rise, but When and How High

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Nov 24 10:25:42 MST 2017

NY Times, Nov. 24 2017
Not if the Seas Rise, but When and How High

The Water Will Come
Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World
By Jeff Goodell
340 pages. Little, Brown. $28.

Once you’ve read an excellent book about climate change, which Jeff 
Goodell’s “The Water Will Come” most certainly is, you can never 
unremember the facts. Elected officials may be busy arguing about 
whether global warming is real. But most scientists are having other 
arguments entirely — about whether danger is imminent or a few decades 
off; about whether our prospects are dire or merely grim.

“Sea-level rise is one of the central facts of our time, as real as 
gravity,” Goodell writes. “It will reshape our world in ways most of us 
can only dimly imagine.”

Goodell has little trouble imagining it. He opens “The Water Will Come” 
with a fictional hurricane whipping through Miami in 2037. It sweeps the 
Art Deco buildings of South Beach off their foundations, disgorges 
millions of gallons of raw sewage into Biscayne Bay and eats the last of 
the city’s beaches. Thousands scramble for bottled water dropped by the 
National Guard. Zika and dengue fever start to bloom (so much moisture, 
so many mosquitoes). Out rush the retirees and glamour pusses; in rush 
the lawyers and slumlords. Within decades, the place is swallowed whole 
by the ocean. What was once a vibrant city is now a scuba-diving 
destination for intrepid historians and disaster tourists.

The whole scenario seems indecently feasible by the book’s end.

After this year’s calamitous flooding in Houston and the Caribbean, “The 
Water Will Come” is depressingly well-timed, though I’m guessing all 
good books about this subject will be from now on. Political time now 
lags behind geological time: If we don’t take dramatic steps to prepare 
for the rising seas, hundreds of millions could be displaced from their 
homes by the end of the century, and the infrastructure fringing the 
coast, valued in the trillions of dollars, could be lost.

Unfortunately, human beings are uniquely ill-suited to prepare for 
disasters they cannot sense or see. “We have evolved to defend ourselves 
from a guy with a knife or an animal with big teeth,” Goodell writes, 
“but we are not wired to make decisions about barely perceptible threats 
that gradually accelerate over time.”

So we stick our heads in the sand. Until the sand disappears, anyway.

To give you an idea of why many climate scientists are so nervous: Over 
the course of the earth’s history, seas have risen drastically whenever 
ice sheets suddenly collapsed. And that’s precisely what’s happening 
now. Greenland is melting at a furious rate — by 2040, Goodell writes, 
we’ll be able to windsurf at the North Pole — and so are the ice shelves 
of Antarctica.

Many of our climate reports, including the one that formed the basis of 
the 2015 Paris Agreement, hadn’t predicted this. Their authors assumed 
that the most the sea could rise by 2100 was three feet, two inches. Now 
many scientists believe that estimate is too low. Some say the sea could 
rise as much as six feet; others say even more than that.

“For anyone living in Miami Beach or South Brooklyn or Boston’s Back Bay 
or any other low-lying coastal neighborhood,” Goodell writes, “the 
difference between three feet of sea level rise by 2100 and six feet is 
the difference between a wet but livable city and a submerged city.”

Goodell has been writing about climate change for many years. (His 
previous books include “Big Coal” and “How to Cool the Planet.”) He’s 
the real deal, committed and making house calls. In “The Water Will 
Come,” partly built on stories he’s written for Rolling Stone, he visits 
cities in peril around the globe: New York; Lagos, Nigeria; Norfolk, 
Va.; Miami; Venice; Rotterdam. He speaks to a great many politicians, 
including Barack Obama, eventually asking some version of, “Given what 
you know, aren’t you scared out of your wits?” (Obama’s response: 
“Yeah.”) At an art event, Goodell buttonholes an influential developer 
in Miami, Jorge Pérez, and asks several variations of the same question. 
Pérez insists he’s unworried. “Besides,” he adds, “by that time, I’ll be 
dead, so what does it matter?”

The full exchange is worth reading. It plays out like something from a 
Carl Hiaasen novel. All that’s missing are the twin blondes in the hot tub.

Of all the American cities in this book, Miami seems least equipped to 
handle a rise in sea level, founded as it is on pleasure, real estate 
and the inalienable right to not pay state income taxes. (When a local 
geologist undertook a larger project to show just how much fecal matter 
was in Biscayne Bay, the mayor of Miami Beach went ballistic.) But every 
coastal city faces its own obstacles to adaptation, and the problems 
each one faces are different.

Naval Station Norfolk, the largest navy base in the world, may have as 
few as 20 good years left. Yet it’s located in a climate-denial hot spot 
in Virginia, and it depends on more than a few climate-deniers in 
Congress for funding. “Many people in the military end up talking about 
climate in much the way eighth graders talk about sex — with code 
words,” Goodell writes.

New York City may have more climate-change realists doing its bidding 
and spending its dollars. But the barrier the city plans to build to 
protect Wall Street — you’ve got to protect Wall Street, right? — could 
deflect water into poorer neighborhoods. (And let’s not even discuss the 
fate of the subways.)

It is, perhaps, the world’s poor who will suffer most. Goodell devotes a 
good deal of this book to contemplating their fate. Salty soil has 
already destroyed the rice crops of the Mekong Delta and Bangladesh. If 
the sea rises high enough, whole island nations could be washed away. 
The slum-dwellers of Lagos, Jakarta and other coastal cities in the 
developing world could be chased from their homes, many of which are 
already on stilts. The International Organization for Migration 
estimates there will be 200 million climate refugees by 2050.

Yet even countries with means can’t get their citizens to focus on this 
problem. “The average American right now,” Obama tells Goodell, “even if 
they’ve gotten past climate denial, is still much more concerned about 
gas prices, getting back and forth from work, than they are about the 
climate changing.”

Water simply isn’t on their minds. They’ve got more pressing concerns to 
keep at bay.

Follow Jennifer Senior on Twitter: @JenSeniorNY.

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