Water, Water Everywhere, But How Much Is Too Much?: The Global Water Crisis – Part IV
Long time readers of this column might remember an article in the December 2010 issue of Viewpointe that described the results of an annual national contest to select the winner of the WOTY. I suspect that few readers, even those who might have read that original article remember or know what WOTY is. Here is the explanation from that article:
“One of the underreported activities that affect our vocabulary usage is the annual award of what has been named ‘the Word of the Year,’ perhaps better known by the acronym ‘WOTY.’ Here is how Wikipedia describes the process: ‘Since 1991, the American Dialect Society (ADS) has designated one or more words or terms to be the ‘Word of the Year’ in the United States.’”
You will note that WOTY’s can be brand new words, or common words sometimes given new meanings. During the mortgage and home crises, the latter applied to the word “underwater,” a word that in 2008 actually was a nominee for WOTY. In this case, the traditional definition of a commonplace word was changed to describe the situation when the balance of a mortgage loan is higher than the fair market value of the property, providing a new meaning to the word. It has become so ubiquitous to state that a mortgage or a property is underwater, that meaning has overwhelmed the usage of the original word.
Woody Allen famously once said, “Bisexuality immediately doubles your chances for a date on Saturday night.” If you remember your grammar, having endowed the word “underwater” with a double meaning, it earned the title of homonym––these are words spelled and pronounced alike but different in meaning. Since the word underwater has already been bypassed as the WOTY despite its double meaning, does it possess a new or other unique characteristic that could double its chance to win a WOTY? What if the word underwater, in its traditional form, provides the catalyst that would automatically trigger the use of that same word but back to its original rendition? Consider this scenario:
You purchased a house in Miami Beach for $400,000 with a mortgage of $320,000. A few years later, the minor and infrequent flooding that occurred shortly after you bought the property, as a consequence of rising sea levels, increased both in frequency and intensity. At that point parts of the house were frequently literally underwater. As a result, the property decreased in value to $200,000. Thus, the literal underwater condition of the house was the catalyst that triggered the property to be viewed as underwater from a mortgage standpoint as well. A word that forces the usage of the alternate definition of that same word would be most unusual. When––not if––that happens, my vote for WOTY would go to “underwater.”
I used the Miami area in the above example because it typifies the severity and magnitude of the problem. Of the total of 4.2 million US citizens who live at an elevation of four feet or less, 2.4 million of them live in south Florida. Of course, within south Florida sits Miami, the city that in 2013 was listed by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development as the number-one most vulnerable city (worldwide) to rising sea levels. This evaluation was based on estimates of potential property damage, with more than $416 billion in assets at risk to storm-related flooding and sea-level rise.
Ah Yes! I Remember It Well
From Boca Raton, to get to that once venerable location (where my wife and I honeymooned more years ago than I can believe), you take I-95 to the MacArthur Causeway and exit on Alton Rd., a busy commercial thoroughfare that passes through the heart of the city. I deliberately use the phrase “once venerable” because of what is happening now as a result of climate change on Alton Rd.
“A drive through the sticky Florida heat into Alton Road in Miami Beach can be an unexpectedly awkward business. Most of the boulevard, which runs north through the heart of the resort's most opulent palm-fringed real estate, has been reduced to a single lane that is hemmed in by bollards, road-closed signs, diggers, trucks, workmen, stacks of giant concrete cylinders and mounds of grey, foul-smelling earth.” This is a description provided by The Observer, a British (of all things) news organization.
A Look Into The Future
What is happening here is a precursor of what the future holds for most of our coastal cities. While minor flooding has bedeviled Alton Rd. for some years, especially during periods of high tide, it had escalated to the point where during a period of “king tide” water was up to hub caps on cars, and well over people’s ankles as they waded through the murky and filthy water. For those astronomically challenged (as I was in this case), king tide is not really a scientific term, but it describes the spring and fall periods when the sun, moon and earth are in alignment, and when the most intense flooding occurs.
Last month, this positioning occurred on October 9 th, a date for which the city had been planning. Officials hoped to avoid the familiar scenes of people wading in ankle-deep waters and cars splashing down Alton Road, as in past years. They were banking on their long-term $15 million investment in storm water pumps to mitigate this year’s highest high tides,
Good News/Bad News
The good news is that the pumps did work, and the traditional flooding was avoided. The bad news however, is the cost of controlling the impact of rising sea levels in the future. The $15 million spent so far is the first fraction of the $500 million the city plans to spend during the next five years on 58 pumps up and down Miami Beach. But even that is just the beginning. The long-term strategy will have to include revamping the building code to construct buildings higher off the ground, making roads higher and constructing a taller seawall. Miami Beach provides just a microscopic glimpse of what the impact of rising sea levels portend for not only the country’s, but for the world’s coastline areas.
What’s The NCA?
In early May, a team of more than 300 experts guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee produced a report mandated by Congress titled “The National Climate Assessment (NCA).” The public, as well as experts, including federal agencies and a panel of the National Academy of Sciences, extensively reviewed this report. At a briefing on the report, Jerry Melillo, a scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and chairman of the advisory committee, said “the issue of sea level rise along the vast coastlines of the United States” is at or near the top of the list of the most pressing concerns.
Incidentally, this report, was legislatively mandated by Congress under a law signed by former President George H.W. Bush, and is the third since the first was released in 2000, with the second one in 2009.
This new update is the largest, most comprehensive U.S. focused climate change report ever produced. More than 300 scientists were involved in writing the report and hundreds more reviewed and edited the draft reports. The newest report states, “What is new over the last decade is that we know with increasing certainty that climate change is happening now. Further observations unequivocally show that climate is changing and that warming of the past 50 years is primarily due to human induced emissions of heat-trapping gases.”
On rising sea levels, the new report went beyond warnings issued recently by the United Nations. That body’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned in September that by the end of the century, sea levels could rise by as much as three feet globally if emissions continue at a rapid pace. The American scientists said the rise could be anywhere from one to four feet, and added that six feet could not be entirely ruled out. The scientists emphasized that along much of the East Coast, the situation will be worse than the global average because the land there is sinking.
However, it is not Florida alone that is vulnerable to climate change induced flooding. Not only are parts of the West Coast experiencing the reality of accelerated sea level rise, the Atlantic Coast of the Delmarva Peninsula north into New England, and the shores of the Chesapeake Bay are all equally susceptible. As a result much of the densely populated Eastern Sea board has experienced surging tidal flooding, and sinking lands are exacerbating the problem.
The Inevitable Science Denier Syndrome
Despite this physical evidence, proof of that climate change impacts seal level rise, there are still ideologues who refuse to believe this reality, mistrusting the research, as well as the multitude of hundreds of professional experts trained in the field of climate science. This is typified by the following remark by one of those science disbelievers: “I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it.”
Unfortunately, scientific fact has bedeviled this individual before. A year or so ago, when questioned about his beliefs regarding evolution, he was asked how old the earth is. His answer in part stated, “I'm not a scientist, man. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I'm not sure we'll ever be able to answer that. It's one of the great mysteries.” It took about two weeks of ridicule before he apparently solved this “great mystery,” admitting that scientists have determined the earth is about 2.4 billion years old.
Now here is the most ironic aspect of this individual, who happens to be one of the two senators representing the voters of the great state of Florida, and it’s not the one with a “D” after his name. Here are two of the Senate committees to which this apparently science challenged elected official has been appointed: (I have not seen this information publicized elsewhere.)
The Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation oversees a vast range of issues under its jurisdiction. These include communications, highways, aviation, rail, shipping, transportation security, merchant marine, the Coast Guard, oceans, fisheries, disasters, science, space, interstate commerce, tourism, consumer issues, economic development, export promotion, technology, competitiveness, product safety, and insurance.
Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard: The Subcommittee is responsible for legislation and oversight of matters that impact our oceans, coasts, and climate, including: coastal zone management; marine fisheries and marine mammals; oceans, weather and atmospheric activities; marine and ocean navigation; ocean policy and NOAA. The Subcommittee is responsible for overseeing the Coast Guard.
Almost every single facet listed for which these committees (and thus this senator) are responsible, are subject to climate change induced rising sea levels. It’s like putting the fox in charge of the hen house. But there is more. In March of last year, our infamous senator put his house in Miami up for sale so that he could move permanently to Washington D.C. I can’t determine if the house has been sold or if there was a mortgage involved, but is it possible that he recognized the possible underwater scenario outlined above and he….Nah!!