For too long the national climate debate has centered on “is it real?” and “is it man-made?” How this occurred is likely the subject of another book, but what Goodell has done here is expose how thousands of powerful people are currently working to mitigate the effects of climate change while simultaneously reassuring the public there is absolutely no need to panic or change.
The book is a curious blend of science and politics, and seeing where they may or may not inform each other. Chapters include:
‘The Oldest Story Ever Told’–archaeological-era flooding and how primitive societies coped
‘Living with Noah’–early Miami-Dade Florida developers literally selling swampland
‘New Climate Land’–changes in the ice sheets and problems with various models
‘Air Force One’–meeting with President Obama in Alaska; consensus politics
‘Real Estate Roulette’–the economy of Miami is real estate. How it’s reacting.
‘The Ferrari on the Seafloor’–Venice’s challenge, the MOSE barrier
‘Walled Cities’–NYC Mayor de Blasio and the ‘Big U,’ the billion-dollar wall around lower Manhattan
‘Island States’–the Paris climate accords, the Marshall Islands
‘Weapon of Mass Destruction’–Norfolk, VA, the largest naval base in the U.S. is especially vulnerable, and the larges air force base in the Florida panhandle
‘Climate Apartheid’–Lagos, Nigeria and a new island city, Eko Atlantic, a gated community
‘Miami is Drowning’–Miami’s current interventions to manage sea water rise
‘The Long Goodbye’–financial challenges, climate refuges, legal challenges to the government refusal to maintain unsafe properties and roads.
The book is full of examples in double-think, with regional variations. There’s the Prepare-and-Acknowledge-But-Keep-the-Party-Going approach used in Miami; We’re-Building-A-Wall-and-Everything’s-Fine approach used in Venice and various seaports; Prepare-But-Publicly-Deny-Climate-Change strategy currently used by the largest U.S. military installation in Norfolk, VA, as well as small-town mayors along the mid-Atlantic Coast; the Prepare-and-We-Will-Thrive-Because-We’re-NYC variation; the We-Are-Probably-Screwed approach of the Marshall Islanders (sadly, the most realistic of the bunch) contrasted with the We-Will-Throw-A-Shit-Ton-of-Money-At-It approach of a nearby island U.S. Naval installation.
In my ignorance, I had equated the concept of rising seas with the popular but incorrect ‘bathtub’ model: you add water and it rises all around the edges. But due to all sorts of fun things (mostly geophysics, I gather, including land composition, topography, and the Great currents), all locations will not see equal water rise. I don’t know if that’s better or worse, honestly, but it does mean that places will be unequally affected, which is always a problem. Goodell concentrates on the U.S., and for a couple of reasons, Miami and New York City are going to be particularly affected by sea rise.
I had also thought climate change would be relatively straightforward inasmuch as rising seas, increasing temperatures, and increasing ferocity of ‘weather events,’ can be, but it turns out, there’s a lot of sub-problems there. I’m an inlander, so I never knew about all the variations in tides with years/moons/weather patterns, but it does mean that those things will become more intrusive on a monthly or yearly cycle (much like an ‘el Nino’ winter weather pattern) for low-lying areas.
Then there’s the fresh-water issue. Oceans are, obviously, saline. Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot of food grown along deltas where freshwater eventually runs into the ocean (the Nile Delta, deltas in Vietnam, and Bangladesh). These food sources might easily be lost, resulting in large populations of hungry people. The microcosm of the Marshall Islands already shows how rising water infiltrates the water table beneath the island, turning previously freshwater sources more brackish, and leading breadfruit trees to die of salt poisoning.
Flooding also brings a host of bacteria problems: most sewer systems end up over-burdened, as they were never meant to cope with that much water. Even ones that were may fail as the water table rises. Then there is the non-sewer system waste systems–many, many parts of America (and 30% of Miami-Dade County) rely on septic systems, which aren’t flood proof. So a flood releases bacteria into the environment. Sampling of the water during a recent Miami-area flood showed E.coli bacteria at 300 times recommended ‘safe’ levels (p.247). And that shit–literally–don’t disappear with the water, my friends.
In the chapter on Norfolk, VA, and the U.N. Climate Agreement, Goodell makes a decent case for how this is potentially a national security issue, because these world-wide changes will undoubtedly result in more refugees.
It wasn’t as depressing as I thought, mainly because I did learn a lot, and there are people that are attempting to mitigate change. I gave it four stars because at times it felt like a collection of magazine articles (which is how Goodell started) and a little less cohesive than I would like. I also felt, for what was essentially a reporter piece, that he interjected his opinion more than he should. I appreciated his honesty, particularly when he was interviewing influencers such as President Obama, but I think his questions veered into being more about his own ego and getting a ‘gotcha’ moment. For the most part, though, I thought he was sensitive to the challenges his interviewees faced.
I do recommend it, for no other reason than to cut through the hype and to understand the grand scale of both the problems we are all facing and the solutions they will require.