Tuesday, May 31, 2016

There's a Flood in Your Future
Walter Salm, Editor
To a visitor from another planet, it would become immediately obvious — we live on a water world. In fact, land makes up only about 30 percent of the Earth's surface. Seen from outer space, our world appears to be all blue, the color of the oceans. It is indeed ironic that the oceans, which percolated and developed life on our spaceship Earth, may now be trying to take some of it back. Global warming and the melting of the icecaps and glaciers is a very real part of our past, present, and future. Indeed, some climatologists rightfully point out that we are still emerging from the last ice age, and we can expect the oceans to continue to rise.

Virtually everywhere on spaceship Earth is becoming endangered, if it's near water. The incredibly watery city of Venice, Italy, has been dealing with higher and higher water levels for centuries, and is increasingly hard-pressed to find ways to protect its historic buildings. People in the Low Countries have lived behind dikes for centuries, depending on good engineering and pumps to keep their below-sea-level land arable and livable. The city of St. Petersburg, Russia, is particularly vulnerable to storm surges, so has installed a huge and costly ($6 billion) storm gate to protect it from Mother Nature's worst efforts.

On the other side of the world, St. Petersburg, Florida, and in fact the entire state of Florida are in dirfe danger of being totally submerged by rising oceans. Florida has no mountains, and much of it is swamp or reclaimed below-sea-level land. New York City and its nearby suburbs all had their vulnerability proven by Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Much of New York City is underground, and much of it is on reclaimed land. A recent National Geographic cover showed the Statue of Liberty standing in water that was almost waist-high. That same magazine showed a world map with radically altered coastlines somewhere down the timeline — 80 years? 100 years? Putting up better and higher seawalls will become the order of the day for most coastal areas in the world, at least in those countries that can afford to build them. But sea walls can only go so high. Unfortunately, the next big storm is going to kill a lot of innocent and helpless people. It has already happened in the Philippines, a particularly vulnerable area, as is almost any archipelago that has attracted people and development.

There is one area of the Netherlands where floating houses are anchored in place on steel plungers that allow the buildings to rise and fall with the changes in tides and sea level while being held in place. It's one of many ingenious solutions that will probably find adherents in other parts of the world.

The inevitability of the coming deluge can be disheartening, but it will certainly be a good time for construction companies that make and install sea walls and other engineering marvels that may appear on the horizon. It will also be a good time for boat builders.

There will come a time when property values will be inverted, with low-cost inland protected areas suddenly becoming highly desirable. New York State's Catskill and Adirondack Mountains could transition from being resort areas to population centers. California's Central Valley, which currently produces about 50 percent of all of America's food, may soon find itself becoming a more desirable place to live by hordes of displaced coastal city dwellers. Many of them move there now upon retirement, since property values are so much lower — for now. Much of the valley would be largely protected from rising oceans by substantial coastal mountain ranges.

Estimates place about 150 million coastal city dwellers in flooded areas by 2070. And about $35 trillion worth of property would be destroyed or simply made unusable. That's only 56 years away! Most of our coastal communities will be under water and will be useful only as breeding grounds for fish, while city dwellers trek to new homes in the mountains. It's coming. And the next big storm may make Superstorm Sandy look like child's play.  

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