Commentary by Dennis Reeves Cooper…….
Have you been keeping up with the climate change/global warming controversy? Well, if you live in the Florida Keys– and especially if you own property here, where most of the land area is only about five feet or less above sea level– you might want to at least try to stay current on this topic. After all, former vice president and almost-president of the United States of America Al Gore has said that “sea level could be rising as much as 20 feet in the near future.” That quote comes from Gore’s 2006 Oscar-winning movie “An Inconvenient Truth.” If his prediction is even close to true, Key West and the remainder of the Keys will be under water “within the near future.” According to Gore– and many climate scientists– the Earth is warming and the polar ice caps are melting and this is causing– and will be causing– sea level increases all around the world. And, they say, the cause of the warming is greenhouse gasses being generated by the human population’s continuing use of fossil fuels. And so, they say, we have got to do something about it or, within just a few years, civilization as we know it will be changed forever! The “something” we need to do, they say, is to, somehow, dramatically reduce the use of fossil fuels. Furthermore, they say, this is “settled science,” so there is no “other side” of the question.
But there is another side of the question. A number or respected climate scientists are proposing an alternate truth– that if the climate is warming at all, the degree to which it might be warming is not necessarily significant. In fact, they say, according to the remote sensing satellite system, there has been no global warming at all for the past 18 years! And they point to another prediction by Al Gore to help make their point. In 2007, while accepting the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to increase awareness of the climate challenge, Gore said that the Earth was warming to such a degree that the entire Arctic ice cap will have melted away by 2014. Today, in 2016, the Arctic ice cap is larger than when Gore made his prediction. So, the scientists questioning the predicted global warming catastrophe say, nothing needs to be done to solve a problem that they say does not exist. They say that Al Gore and the scientists pushing the agenda of catastrophe are simply “alarmists.”
Scientists on Gore’s side, while admitting that the global warming predictions that have been produced by their state-of-the-art computer systems have not exactly been spot on, they continue to argue that the Earth is getting warmer, no matter what those satellites say– and that this is really, really bad news for people who live in coastal areas around the world. And they call those who disagree with them “climate change deniers.” But the truth is that virtually no climate scientist anywhere is saying that the climate is not changing. Of course the climate is changing– and it has been changing for millions of years. For its entire 4.5 billion-year history, the Earth has been going through cycles of warming and cooling. There have been periods in which there was almost no ice at all anywhere on the planet. Reportedly, sea level during those periods was something like 200 feet higher than sea level today– and what is now Florida was completely under water. But there have also been periods when the Earth was like a big snowball– when all or almost all of the entire world was covered with ice. During these periods, the oceans were actually frozen over. The point here is that climate change– warming or cooling– is not some recent thing.
So what can Keys residents believe? Is the world warming or not– and if it is warming, is it warming enough for us to be concerned about it here in the Keys? And if we should be concerned, what should we be concerned about? And what can we do, if anything, to make a difference? Should we call the moving van or not? I can tell you what many government officials appear to believe: The world is warming. How much it is warming depends on who you listen to. But warming to any degree will likely result in sea level rise– and that is the primary threat to Key West and the Keys. Actually, the sea level has been rising here for decades. A tidal gauge operating here since before the Civil War has documented a sea level rise of 9 inches over the last 100 years. And looking at the future, the United Nation’s International Panel on Climate Change has estimated that sea level worldwide will increase by about 7 inches to maybe 2 feet over the next 100 years. A consortium of three South Florida county advisory committees– including the Monroe County Climate Change Advisory Committee– predicts that sea level may increase here by 3 to 7 inches by 2030 and by 9 to 24 inches by 2060. These estimates reflect predictions by the Army Corps of Engineers. A worst case scenario is that sea level could rise here by as much as 3 feet by 2100.
The impact of just a 1-foot increase in the sea level here would be the routine flooding of more than half of the land area in Key West and the Keys during high tides; and this impact could more extreme during storms. This is already happening here to some degree. Flooding at the northern end of Duval Street is becoming increasing common during full moon high tides. Some restaurants and other businesses are keeping sandbags just inside their front doors to be ready for use on a moment’s notice. Some point to the flooding that happened during and after Hurricane Wilma in 2005 as what our future might look like as the sea level rises. That is an extreme comparison, however. The storm surge during Wilma was about 6 feet above mean sea level. But even a 2-foot rise in the sea level here could turn much of the valuable property in the Keys into marshland.
So, what can you do about the potential threat of sea level rise here– other than be aware of what might happen? I say “might happen” because, if you have any confidence at all in the scientists who are suggesting that the proponents of a global warming catastrophe are simply perpetrating a gigantic hoax in order to forward an extreme environmental agenda, it is possible that nothing or not much will happen. Keep in mind that, back in 2007, Al Gore predicted that the Arctic ice cap would be completely melted away by 2014 and that he predicted in 2006 that the sea level could rise by 20 feet “in the near future.” There are, however, actions that can be taken to try to mitigate potential effects of sea level rise here. For example, our local governments have passed laws concerning the elevation of new buildings, and those who manage public facilities like the airport and hospitals and schools are looking at possible ways to protect those facilities. But there isn’t really much you can do as an individual, other than think about what you may or may not be able to do to protect your own property from potential flooding.
That brings up what I consider a most troubling element of the whole climate change/global warming debate– the apparent fact that many politicians and government officials have been convinced that there is actually something they can do to prevent the climate from changing. The following statement appears in the Action Plan of the Monroe County Climate Change Advisory Committee, published in March 2013: “If sea level rise is not curtailed by immediate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, the Florida Keys will eventually become unlivable.” And, then, the committee devotes most of the 64-page report to ways that government, businesses and individuals here can “go green” in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To their credit, however, the members of the committee do point out that they are aware that global warming is, well, global, and that any efforts to go green in the Keys will have virtually no impact at all– none, nada, zip– in affecting sea level rise here or anywhere else. They say that the rationale for telling us all how to go green is simply to show “leadership.”
I am not a climate scientist. But I am educated enough to recognize the sheer arrogance of man assuming that he (or she) can, somehow, change what Mother Nature is going to do. The futility of such an exercise should be more than obvious. We cannot control the climate! At least not yet. Even if President Obama is successful in forcing Americans to accept extreme restrictions concerning the use of fossil fuels, most of the developing world is simply not going to do it! So, while it is prudent for all of us here in the Keys to be aware of the potential threat of sea level rise, none of us should be deluded into thinking that we can do anything at all to change the climate– or to stop the sea, so to speak. Going green is a good thing. And we should all do it. But, Bubba, let me assure you that, if the sea level is going to rise, it is going to rise.
END NOTE: The climate change/global warming debate is interesting. It is also somewhat confusing for most of us because there are credentialed, credible spokesmen on both sides (except Al Gore, maybe). If you want to learn more, a starting point might be to log onto youtube.com and search for “climate change” or “global warming” or both. You will find a mixed variety of videos representing both sides of the controversy. Or you can go back to school to study climate science.