Friday, November 05, 2021

The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World

A large portion of the earth's population lives near the ocean. Places like Miami are almost entirely situated just a few feet above sea level. They are also subject to storm surges that temporarily rise up the level of the sea. People are ill-prepared for these changes. Flood insurance is usually underpriced and politically manipulated. This has encouraged development in flood-prone areas. There are some large-scale engineering measures that can be implemented to help buy time. However, these require money. Many low-lying areas are dependent on real-estate and tourism. They need confidence in the market to have the tax revenue for solutions. This further encourages development in floodplains. 

There have been some limited responses with varying degrees of success. The flood gate in Venice has been subject to huge amounts of corruption. In New York, there have been plans to protect some high-value real estate (like lower Manhattan) There have also been attempts to buy out homeowners in some especially fragile areas. (But not everyone has agreed - in part because flood insurance has allowed them to rebuild) There are also concerns about water, sewage and other changes as waters rise.

The book argues that human-caused climate change is the primary cause of sea level change. I think this gives a little too much credit to humanity's ability to manipulate the earth. Sea levels have always been changing. (People were once able to walk on land from Russia to Alaska.) It is a fool's errand to attempt large-scale engineering solutions to manipulate the climate. Human activities may change the pace of changes, but changes will still happen. In the past, people would pick up and move to different locations as sea levels changed. Today it is more challenging. Cities are filled with interconnected dependencies. How do we account for changes in sea levels? 

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