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Sunday, April 23, 2017


March of the persons

by Tom Sullivan

This view from NASA's Cassini spacecraft shows planet Earth as a point of light between the icy rings of Saturn. Close-up shows Earth and its moon. Image: NASA.

While web surfing last night, I came cross this riff George Carlin used to do about Man's arrogance that he thinks he can control nature. Way over ninety percent of species that have ever lived are gone, he says. That's what nature does. Let them go with dignity. There's nothing wrong with the planet, Carlin says. It's been here four and half billion years. "The planet has been through a lot worse than us ... The planet will shake us off like a bad case of fleas." And yet.

We are are a part of nature. It affects us in ways we don't really understand. Even big game trophy hunters — bless their hearts — feel some connection to it. That's what we do when we're not working pointless jobs, paying bills, and sitting in front of glowing boxes watching other humans on reality shows behave like idiots so we can feel less like idiots ourselves. Brought to you by the Discover card, like Yosemite and Yellowstone if Wall Street gets its way.

And what have we discovered?

For one, Wall Street will have to find a new place from which to rule the planet. Soon enough it will be under water.

A pot-smoking lineman I know once declared it his aspiration one day to live "above the flush line." Up above the waste being generated by the rest of humanity. Those presently living above the flush line now soon will have to make room for Wall Streeters and the rest our coastal cousins. The flush line will be moving higher along with the coastlines.

A study release this last week in Nature Climate Change examines how rising sea levels will force coastal residents to relocate inland by 2100:
The study is the first attempt to model the destination of millions of potentially displaced migrants from heavily populated coastal communities.

"We typically think about sea level rise as a coastal issue, but if people are forced to move because their houses become inundated, the migration could affect many landlocked communities as well," said the study's lead author, Mathew Hauer, who completed his doctoral degree in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences department of geography.

While sea-level rise assessments are numerous and may help plan for the development of critical infrastructure, few research studies have grappled with where displaced people and families will go. No previous studies model how migration caused by sea-level rise will affect population other than in the directly affected coastal areas.

Image: Matthew Hauer, Nature Climate Change. Tick marks show the number of migrants (inflows and outflows) in thousands. States are ordered clockwise by the size of inflows. The top ten outflow states are colored; all other states are in grey.
Hauer has people in New Orleans wondering where they might have to move. People from inland communities such as Phoenix and Austin are wondering too about who will be moving in next door. Counties in Wyoming and "western Montana, central Colorado and northern Utah" had better start planning too.

The effects will be widespread. An arresting photograph by Paul Nicklen at Bill Moyers' blog this week speaks to the effects warming, rising seas are having on arctic and antarctic ecosystems. While sailing in the Svalbard archipelago in the summer of 2014, Nicklen came upon large polar bear cubs that had starved to death. Then:
“All of a sudden a blizzard came up, a massive storm — 80 knots of wind — so we had to go and hide,” Nicklen recalls. For protection, the best choice was to sail behind Nordaustlandet, a large, ice-covered island in the Svalbard archipelago. “And the temperature, even though we’re 600 miles from the North Pole, was 62 degrees Fahrenheit. And you’ve got all the waterfalls pouring off the Nordaustlandet ice cap.”

Nicklen snapped a photo — and, on this balmy day in the Arctic, captured a potent picture of climate change: A wall of ice in a steel-colored sea, with water pouring from the top of it.

“You go from the dead bears to this, and then look at the science — you come to understand that if we wait for the streets of New York or Miami to be flooded from rising sea levels, then we’ll be 200 years too late,” he says.
Another report from Nature Climate Change last year predicted the effects could last twice as long as human history.

The Slims River, an area I've hiked in the Yukon, changed course in just four days last year from increased melting of the Kaskawulsh glacier. Waters that used to drain through Kluane Lake north into the Yukon River now travel south to the Gulf of Alaska. Communities along the lake suddenly find waters receding and fish stocks in jeopardy.

Sea level rise might catch up to plate tectonics. Mount Everest grows at the rate of about 4 millimeters per year. But that elevation is measured above mean sea level. Sea level is rising (currently) about 3.2 millimeters per year. If that increases much, Everest could start getting shorter.