By Huck Fairman
Princeton University climate scientist, Dr. Michael Oppenheimer, has been looking at the possible impacts from ocean level rise, storm surges, higher tides and breaking waves. He acknowledges that modeling estimates for these coastal changes is not easy because of the many uncertainties. For instance, predicting the height of and the destruction from breaking waves is dependent on several uncertain factors. But Oppenheimer urges cities and states to formulate the best predictions they can because it will require decades to construct barriers to protect their communities.
A recent analysis by NOAA found that high-tide flooding along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts has already increased five times since 2000. And so while ocean level rise has been relatively slow, storm-driven high tides, flooding and breaking waves have been increasing more rapidly. In addition to the New Jersey and New York coastlines, those in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, and the Gulf coast states, as well as European and Asian nations, already face increasing flooding and destruction. And, Dr. Oppenheimer pointed out, with the warming baked into the planet, these ocean trends are certain to continue until at least 2050. This means that because we cannot expect to any time soon reverse these trends, we must expand the planning to adapt to them.
But adapting will be no simple policy redirection. The journal, Scientific Reports, calculates that up to 170 million people living in coastal communities face a variety of risks. By 2050, the number is likely to rise above 200 million. Only timely planning can begin to respond to the changing conditions and avoid wide-spread destruction and economic dislocation.
Ocean-related destruction is not, unfortunately, the only threat facing us and our environments. Torrential rains, flooding and droughts are stressing a number of populations living far from the oceans. These alternating, uncertain, extreme weather events, and climate changes, are reducing food availability and economic viability. According to a recent NY Times article by Brad Plumer, literally hundreds of millions of people around the world will face survival choices – in many cases forcing them to immigrate to new homes. This, the article warned, will result in the greatest wave of migration the world has ever seen.
And this migration has begun. Varying monsoon rainfall and drought have, according to the World Bank, forced more than eight million Southeast Asians to move to the Middle East, Europe and North America. Current research points to this need to escape hot, unpredictable climates as increasing and vastly recomposing current populations over the coming decades.
The Times article does note this migration has, and can, benefit nations that have been losing laborers, but at the same time, it has also led to “turbulent” political situations, to anti-immigrant backlashes, and to nationalist governments.
What should be done to prevent the worst developments? Common sense directs people and their governments to first understand these global changes, and then to actively prepare for them, both materially and politically.
Certainly reducing emissions is the essential, basic step needed to reduce the increasing heat that brings changing weather, climates and the migrations that follow. Toward this end, Princeton appears to be among the regional leaders in the numbers of residents switching to Teslas and other electric or hybrid cars. This may well be a result of the area’s education levels along with its relative affluence. But wisely, the State of New Jersey is responding to the need by offering rebates to those who purchase or lease electric cars – making them more widely affordable.
The town itself is also joining other Jersey communities in adopting clean energy and reduced energy policies. If a society (and civilization,) is going to save itself, it needs to adapt a number of such strategies that encourage wiser, more far-sighted energy use. Many states have done so, but more need to. And we need this leadership at all levels.
Science has warned us of the repercussions if we don’t respond. We are seeing many of the predictions coming true, very much as science foretold. Now citizens and leaders need to respond to the threats to prevent the worst possibilities from coming true. The coming elections may determine our future well-being at all levels.