Sea Level: How Effed are We?

October 13, 2018

Jeff Goodell in Rolling Stone: this short video. In it, you’ll see a scientist named Richard Alley in a Skype discussion with students at Bard College, as well as with Eban Goodstein, director of the Graduate Programs in Sustainability at Bard. It would be just another nerdy Skype chat except Alley is talking frankly about something that few scientists have the courage to say in public: As bad as you think climate change might be in the coming decades, reality could be far worse. Within the lifetime of the students he’s talking with, Alley says, there’s some risk — small but not as small as you might hope — that the seas could rise as much as 15-to-20 feet.

More detail below.

Let’s pause to think about what 15-to-20 feet of sea-level rise in the next 70 or so years looks like. I’ll put it bluntly: It means not just higher storm surges from hurricanes, but the permanent drowning of virtually every major coastal city in the world. Miami, New Orleans, large parts of Boston and New York City and Silicon Valley, not to mention Shanghai, Jakarta, Ho Chi Min City, Lagos, Mumbai — all gone. And I don’t mean “sunny day flooding,” where you get your feet wet on the way to the mall. I mean these cities, and many more, become scuba diving sites.

There are not enough economists in the world to calculate the trillions of dollars worth of real estate that would be lost in a scenario like this. Nor are there enough social scientists to count the hundreds of millions of people who would be displaced. You think the world is a chaotic place now? Just wait.

Richard Alley is not a fringe character in the world of climate change. In fact, he is widely viewed as one of the greatest climate scientists of our time. If there is anyone who understands the full complexity of the risks we face from climate change, it’s Alley. And far from being alarmist, Alley is known for his careful, rigorous science. He has spent most of his adult life deconstructing past Earth climates from the information in ice cores and rocks and ocean sediments. And what he has learned about the past, he has used to better understand the future.

For a scientist of Alley’s stature to say that he can’t rule out 15 or 20 feet of sea-level rise in the coming decades is mind-blowing. And it is one of the clearest statements I’ve ever heard of just how much trouble we are in on our rapidly warming planet (and I’ve heard a lot — I wrote a book about sea-level rise).

I interviewed Jim Hansen on this topic a few years ago.




30 Responses to “Sea Level: How Effed are We?”

  1. redskylite Says:

    Having listened to the short except and read through the postings, it’s a great pity so much was devoted to McPherson. As far as I’m concerned Richard Alley has both feet planted firmly on the ground, but more importantly he can think into the future in deeper time frames, which many people, especially politicians seem to lack. Listen to Alley he is spot on.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Agreed. As I’ve said in other replies, attacking McPherson is just a way for some folks to work through their grief. As you say, a waste of time when Alley and Hansen and Mann and so many others are now speaking truth and addressing how bad it is likely to get too soon. (And I still maintain that McPherson gave them “cover” to speak out more strongly—-threw himself on the live grenade, so to speak).

      The same for all the computations and speculations about past and future sea level rise here. Why bother with all that obsessive doodling when so many like Alley are saying it’s looking very bad indeed. Put SLR together with all the other trends and look for the pattern, the “web” if you will—-anyone with any intuitive skills at all can see what’s coming—-trying to work it out on the back of an envelope is a waste of time (but MAY help process grief). Rational fatalism and acceptance RULE!

  2. dumboldguy Says:

    (Reply to stephengn message of October 14, 2018 at 3:32 pm. Need a LOT of space to deal with such a huge assemblage of logic fails)

    “Whatever it takes” is NOT, after all, the way ALL life operates. Living things evolve, and either adapt or go extinct. “Whatever it takes” implies some sort of free will or planning that does NOT exist in nearly all species, and humans have shown they’re not capable of doing it.

    It takes a while to get to 7 Billion+ humans from zero—-about 66 million years, by the best estimates. Considering the amount of damage we’ve done in just a couple of centuries, BAU with fossil fuels will lead to massive human diebacks in a bllnk of the eye—–IMO, a couple or three decades on up to a century or two. McPherson jumped the gun a bit.

    “On the other hand, you and McPherson seem to be consistently dark-sided. Please tell me when that has ever been a successful survival strategy. Literally anyone can give up, lay down and die” That is about the most foolish anthropocentric statement anyone has made here in a while. What makes you think that simply BELIEVING in bright-sided BS is any kind of “survival strategy”? Nature bats last—-violate her rules badly enough and you’re out of the game

    “But we are a fairly unprecedented species”? LOL
    “We are the only species to even have the capacity to ask the question why”? LMAO!
    “We are well equipped, despite our vast flaws to get past even this” ROTFLMAO!!

    “I wholly reject the notion that “Our technological “skill” is what is killing us” Greed and ecological overshoot is what is killing us. The same thing could happen to bacteria”. OMG! and Lord love a duck! Rates a WHAT??? Might be better stated as “RECENT greedy application of our technological skill is what is leading to ecological overshoot” and the same thing CANNOT happen to bacteria—-they have no “technology” and they’ve been around for BILLIONS of years

    And lastly, “From our first use of fire and our invention of the wheel, technological skill has made us the dominant species. It is only our imaginations will save us” is a fitting finale to this Gish Gallop of confusion. Too bad our collective “imaginations” just can’t seem to grasp the problem, never mind find adequate solutions.

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