On Tuesday, March 19, Thomas Homer Dixon showed a slide as part of his presentation that illustrated one response to the climate crisis, which he called the "We're Fucked" response. Then he quickly shifted to the next slide which redefined that as "Opportunity for Change." I appreciated that note of optimism. But when I read stories like the one below—one Katrina or Sandy-like storm surge every other year due to climate change—that seems to belong in the "We're Fucked" category. I don't think sugar-coating it as an "opportunity" does much good. I learned from the Buddhist Ecologist Joanna Macy that we have to get in touch with our shock and grief for the planet's situation, fully accept it as it is, if we're going to realistically do something about it. We have to move through the fear, grief and sometimes paralysis and then we can move into the "opportunity."
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA), a storm surge is an "abnormal rise of water generated by a storm, over and above the predicted astronomical tide". (See image below)
Graphic representation of a storm surge. Image: chathamemergency.org
In other words, the wind of a storm pushes the sea at a higher level than the normal tide. The result is flooding of coastal areas which can cause not only incredible damage coastal homes and infrastructure, but also great loss of life. Still fresh in the collective memory of North Americans are the storm surges associated with Hurricane Sandy (2012) and Hurricane Katrina (2005).
Flooding in New Jersey during Hurricane Sandy. Photo: Scott Anema.
Horrific damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. Photo: katrinadestruction.com
According to a group of researchers from the Neils Bohr Institute (NBI), extreme storm surges like the one caused by Hurricane Katrina, are set to dramatically increase in the years to come.
Graphic representation of the results from the Neils Bohr Institute study.
The scientists from the NBI used data from monitoring stations along the coast of Gulf of Mexico as well as the Atlantic coast of the US to predict the frequency of hurricane storm surges into the next 100 years. Their results led to the conclusion that if warming of the planet reaches 2 degrees Celsius above pre industrial temperatures, we would see 10-fold increase in the number of Katrina-like storm surges. Put in different units of measurement, this translates into one Katrina-like storm surge every other year.
Unfortunately, the situation becomes even worse when you consider that sea levels will also be rising as temperatures continue to rise. This means that the starting point of any storm surge will be higher, resulting in greater flooding and greater destruction.
Every day that we delay, we reduce the odds of limiting warming to 2 degrees. Every day that we delay, we increase the chances that this is in our future. So what the hell are we waiting for?