Although Americans would rather treat climate change as an ambiguous and distant threat (one that may or may not be real at all, if you listen to our GOP presidential candidates), the populace is going to have to get it through its skull that it is happening here and now.
Scientists have been criticized—and have criticized themselves—for failing to do a better job of communicating the risks of global warming to an apathetic American public. They have been blindsided by senseless media circuses ('ClimateGate'), the victims of organized attacks (Mann's 'Hockey Stick' graph). But there's been an encouraging trend over the last couple years: Scientists are organizing to push back, and are developing more tools that better relay the import of climate science.
A new report, entitled 'Surging Seas', has utilized a number of different tools in its authors and supporters' efforts to carve out some media space for its findings. A peer-reviewed study will be published in Environmental Research Letters, a report issued in layman's terms for consumption by the public, business, and government officials, and, finally, an interactive web-based map will be deployed to more effectively communicate key findings.
And those findings are momentous.
"Sea level rise from global warming has already doubled the risk of extreme coastal floods across the lower 48 states," author Ben Strauss said today on a conference call.
And the front page New York Times story based on the study notes that 3.7 million Americans—that's how many live within mere feet of high tides—are now at risk from increasing coastal flooding, thanks to rising sea levels. That risk will grow more acute over coming decades.
The work was sponsored by Climate Central, a nonprofit group that conducts original research and develops climate awareness programs. From the group's statement on the new report:
Sea level rise due to global warming has already doubled the annual risk of coastal flooding of historic proportions across widespread areas of the United States ... By 2030, many locations are likely to see storm surges combining with sea level rise to raise waters at least 4 feet above the local high-tide line. Nearly 5 million U.S. residents live in 2.6 million homes on land below this level.The report is rounded out by an interactive map, which may be the most interesting news to come out of the effort (we've known for quite some time, after all, that folks who live in coastal areas near sea level are in trouble). The tool lets users zoom around and see exactly how rising sea levels are projected to impact their communities at different points in the future. The screen shot above is from my area in New York—much of which will be vulnerable to storm surges in just ten years.
These findings, as always, have severe implications for city planners, coastal dwellers, and emergency responders, all of whom would do well to acquaint themselves with the map above, and the troves of data it links to.
Global warming is going to change just about every aspect of our lives—but one of the earliest, clearest impacts is the surging sea.