“Doctors, lawyers and Indian chiefs.” That’s what my mother would have called them. It was her way of describing important people. You know, the educated folks who present themselves well and become leaders of their community. It describes most of the people I meet these days. Not so many doctors but a lot of professionals and CEO’s.
One such CEO stands out. He is John Englander, the guy whom Jacque Cousteau picked to be his successor as CEO of the Cousteau Society. I met him in my office a few years ago (I don’t remember who introduced us). “I am writing a book,” he told me. “I’ll send you a copy.” And, he did. I have an autographed first edition published in 2012.
I read a lot but nearly everything I read (and watch or listen to) is on my iPad. So, John’s book, High Tide on Main Street: Rising Sea Level and the Coming Coastal Crisis, sat on my shelf along with a dozen others – unread.
Then came Hurricane Sandy, which was soon followed by an email from John. “Did you read my book?” he asked. “I predicted this.” And, so he did. He discusses the impact of rising sea levels globally and uses chapter 12 to describe the impact on several cities. As for New York, he asserts that the “broad arm of Long Island, the rivers around Manhattan that continue up the Hudson River Valley can, under certain circumstances, act as a funnel, amplifying storm surge effects for Manhattan.” He cites a study done by the Army Corps of Engineers that identifies the conditions under which a “storm surge of nearly 30 feet at the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel” could flood subways and tunnels. He points out that, in August 2011, Hurricane Irene was an inch short of doing so.
And, that was a year before Sandy.
But, I am getting ahead of myself. What High Tide does best is describe the effects of CO2 emissions on global temperatures and how slight changes can have a catastrophic impact. A one degree difference in temperature can make determine whether snow melt will cause a rise in sea levels in any year. He describes the methods by which scientists have identified the 612-foot range of sea levels over the past billion years and focuses our attention on how sea levels have been affected by glaciers.
It’s a vicious cycle. Rising temperatures cause glacial snowmelt, which in turn release more CO2, which causes temperatures to rise which… Well, you get the idea.
The net of all this discussion is that “we are increasing carbon dioxide levels roughly 20,000 times faster than at any time in the last 540 Million years. Temperatures … are now rising about 55 times faster than they did during the most recent cycle of glacial melting”.
Figures lie and liars figure. Princeton Professor William Happer, writingin the Wall Street Journal, discussed the lack of temperature rise over thelast 10 years and cites the same United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as Englander. The difference is that Happer uses the absence of complete data in the study to debunk global climate change while Englander writes a whole chapter about scientific methods and includes data from several other studies to describe the impact of rising CO2 levels on glacial melting.
Rather than ignore what doesn’t fit his point of view, Englander brings all of it into the discussion including the economic and national security impact. Whether you support the view that mankind is causing global climate change or not, you cannot ignore its impact.
New York can be protected according to Englander and last week’s announcement of a $20B plan by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg fits the bill. But, New York sits on a granite foundation while such cities as Miami and Venice, Italy cannot be saved. In place of granite bedrock, they sit on limestone, which acts like a sponge absorbing more water as sea levels rise.
High Tide also offers solutions and describes the economic impact of doing nothing. While Englander makes a hard sell, he doesn’t soft-peddle the challenges of the appropriate responses. Solutions ranging from “retreat” to “defense” are explored while explaining that different geographies require different solutions.
He also discusses the feasibility of technological advances that offer alternatives to burning fossil fuel. What I like most about High Tide is that it boils a lot of scientific information down to language that a non-scientist can understand. In addition, the book doesn’t shy from any of the related topics including the politics of deploying solutions.
Still there is one question that Englander doesn’t answer.
WHO WILL LEAD?