Yet another letter in the local paper this morning with the theme that Global Warming is a figment of overheated liberal imaginations. First I got cranky and then I had an epiphany similar to the one just before the 2004 election. It doesn’t really matter why the glaciers are melting and the seas are rising. HOW ARE WE GOING TO DEAL WITH THE RESULTS? Maybe if we quit arguing about the whyfors and the wherefors and start thinking about the cost of dealing with the one foot rise in ocean levels that some are predicting in the next century then the cost of cutting back on emissions to slow it will look reletively cheap.
I live in Oregon. We don’t have a lot of beaches and the ones we have get smaller as you go north. The beaches get smaller and the cliffs get taller. We already get significant erosion during winters like the last one where high winds and high tides combine to take the sand right out to sea. So we’ll probably lose a lot of the beaches we already have and the seas will start to undercut the sandstone cliffs that have houses on top of them. What about the coast aquifers? They’ll probably fill with salt water that much faster. The coastal streams are already tidal but the salt water will probably go further in and stay longer affecting those ecosystems.
Our main coastal highway is Route 101. It cuts close to the beaches on some of the low lying stretches. Or hug the sandstone cliffs of the south coast. What happens when the sea rises and the beach goes away leaving the road bed vulnerable to storm damage? All together now. Spell giant sinkhole. We’re all ready having problems from the other direction. Took a few decades but now we’re discovering that basalt may be one tough rock but its structure makes it prone to large scale erosion during very wet winters. That and erosion makes soil, soil attracts plants, plants have roots, roots loosen rock. You get the picture. Stretches of roadside cuts have and are being sheathed in chicken wire to try cut down on the rock falls. Lots of chicken wire.
Our only port capable of handling big cargo ships is at Portland seventy miles inland up the Columbia River. The Columbia Bar Pilots are the only pilots in the world who go out in helicopters when the weather is too rough for their pilot boats. These are highly trained and experienced men and women who hold masters papers. They could skipper a ship anywhere in the world. They've chosen the challenge of guiding ships in and out of one of the toughtest harbor approaches in the world. And they lost a pilot in January. He was trying to make the transition from the freighter to the base ship in bad weather and didn’t make it. They don’t call the Columbia bar the Graveyard of the Pacific because we like to exaggerate. The Port of Portland is literally one the hardest ports to reach in the world. But it’s the only game in town between Frisco and SeaTac. Between the freeways and the barge traffic on the Columbia, Portland handles freight for a large section of the country. Will a rise in sea levels make the bar easier or harder to handle? We’re already getting more agricultural traffic with the damage to New OrleansWhat happens when the other Gulf and South Eastern Ports get hit with Katrina reruns?
What happens to cities like Miami as the sea rises? Hell what happens to the whole state of Florida? It may not be flat as a pancake but it’s damn close. The highest place in the state is about 345 feet. Heck we’re higher than that here in Springfield. If parts of Oregon flood out we can up sticks and move down the Willamette Valley or east of the Cascades. And that’s only a couple of million people. There’s more than that in Miami-Dade County alone. Where are they going to go? And that’s just one metro area. The whole state has nearly sixteen million people. Expand that to the whole Gulf Coast and the Southern Atlantic seaboard.
Of course while each side is trying to convert the other to its point of view they don’t have to come to grips with the result. I believe that it’s time to quit arguing about the how and concentrate on the what. Once we start brainstorming the costs of the worst case scenarios of rising seas maybe we’ll start to realize that while it doesn’t matter where the green house gases are coming from, there are some sources that are more open to control than others. If we think switching to other energy forms and slowing the destruction of the seas and forests is expensive and disruptive just imagine trying to relocate the population of Florida or Bangladesh.