Following up on my post from last week, I got into a discussion about the ongoing refusal by the media, politicians, and our society in general to talk about global warming. She was expressing frustration at the degree to which media outlets were hedging their reporting about the increasing severity of hurricanes like Harvey and Irma. While I agree, that was not even really what I was getting at in my earlier post.
I get why papers like The New York TImes are hesitant to raise the question of climate change while reporting on events like Hurricane Harvey or Irma. There is a potentially slippery slope in citing a specific weather event as evidence of climate trends, and while I am not suggesting that reasonable discussion of the increasing severity of hurricanes is equivalent to the bogus rhetoric of the "Where's your global warming?!" nonsense that crops up whenever there is a blizzard, it can't hurt to be cautious.
Regardless of the cause of or contributing factors to any individual hurricane, these events should make us all stop and have a long think about the cities we have built and what will become of them as sea levels rise over the next fifty years. After Katrina, the big question was how New Orleans would rebuild once the floodwaters receded. Now we are asking that question about Houston. Had it not been for Irma's last-minute course change, we would probably be asking the same question later this week about Miami.
The question that comes to my mind—the question we should be asking—is what happens when the flood waters don’t recede?
New York City, Boston, Miami, San Diego, Washington DC, and any other city on the East or West Coast—they will all be under water to one degree or another in the not-too-distant future, and that is just in the United States. There are plenty of other cities around the world at risk as well.
Argue all you want about the causes of climate change or about whether or not climate change is causing more hurricanes, but we are looking at a future in which some of the largest urban areas in the world are going to be mostly under water. What are we going to do about that? Do we tell people “Hey, the water is going to rise and you have to leave”? Do we let people stay and then deal with consequences afterward? So far, our answer seems to be that we avoid talking about it at all and pretend that it isn’t going to happen.