Jul
14
2010

Miserable rising seas

"Here's what I've lately decided: I'm the little kid in "The Sixth Sense" who sees the dead people. I'm getting really sick of being this Cassandra. I mean, it's kind of miserable."
Peter Ward, Author of "The Flooded Earth"

Salon.com recently interviewed Peter Ward about the future of American cities as sea levels rise. The interview was not just depressing--some of Ward's comments were downright terrifying. Regarding the possibility of ending ocean currents, he commented that with one exception, every past mass extinction was caused by volcanic global warming events. He notes:

"Ocean currents slow down. You lose your wind, everything…. Everything goes stagnant, and a stagnant ocean becomes an oxygen-free ocean, and an oxygen-free ocean breeds very bad microbes."

But perhaps the most disturbing implication in the interview was that in order to be heard, scientists have to weaken their own arguments, which in turn weakens governmental response and public perception of the danger.

"No one wants to be branded as some sort of flaming political agenda-ist. These estimates aren't going down, because the amount of CO2 going into the atmosphere keeps going up. And in fact we keep shooting over the worst level projections that people were saying two or three years ago."

So what can we do? This kind of catastrophic discussion makes my weekly reusable bag use at Rainbow seem like chewing gum in a leaking dam, or maybe that first cap BP put on the well. It may make a tiny difference, but it won't avoid disaster.

After all the reading I've done the last few weeks about climate change, I've begun to think the first step is confronting the evidence as a nation (good luck, right?). The hardest part then is identifying and committing to mitigation/response plans--I say that because we are already deeply impacting our environment in ways that we can't reverse. But I also think that as Ward says, "…wherever there's challenges, there are opportunities." If we're going to make changes on a broad scale, we have to find a way to be optimistic about these very depressing facts.

In preparation for the Future Earth exhibit (more soon!), we've been working with the Center for Coastal Margin Observation and Prediction (CMOP). You can read more about their research and outreach efforts on Science Buzz or on their website. The tagline on their website, "Understanding variability to anticipate change," is just the kind of proactive attitude we need as we face rising sea levels.

"I have a fundamental belief that science and education are essential to prepare our society to anticipate and steer changes."
Antonio Baptista, CMOP Director

Where do you find hope for our future? Please reply in the comments!

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