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That sinking feeling: Venice, Rotterdam, Miami, Lagos

flooded streets Miami 2015

BOOK REVIEW by Jenny Goldie.

The Water Will Come – rising seas, sinking cities, and the remaking of the civilized world
by Jeff Goodell
Little, Brown and Co., New York, 2017. 341 pp.

AT THE RECENT  Climate Change Update in Canberra, Professor Mark Howden said sea-level rise, one of the manifestations of climate change, could be as much as 2.5 metres by 2100 should current trends continue. What are the implications for food security? I asked from the floor. “Profound,” he replied.

It’s not just food security, of course. So many major cities are coastal and would be inundated by such an increase in sea-levels. In this book on the subject, Jeff Goodell travels to those cities already affected by rising seas, notably Miami Beach, Lagos, Venice and Rotterdam.

Goodell also flies to Greenland to see the Jakobshavn glacier on the west coast, the fastest moving glacier on earth. Greenland is melting fast (both glaciers and surface ice) and currently contributes twice as much water to sea-level rise as does Antarctica, though that may change.

Indeed, a recent paper by Rob deConto and David Pollard argues that rapid calving and retreat of big glaciers such as Thwaites and Pine Island in West Antarctica could alone contribute a metre of sea-level rise by 2100.

This is a critical point. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has predicted up to one metre sea-level rise by 2100, from thermal expansion as well as melting glaciers, but, as Goodell notes, another metre on top of that will be the difference between a wet but liveable city and a submerged one. It will not only be the loss of coastal real estate, but the lives of many of the 145 million people who live less than a metre above sea-level – notably in Bangladesh and Indonesia. It will mean extinction of many Pacific atolls and the forced migration of their inhabitants.

King tides in Miami Beach: raw sewage a bad look

Goodell spent a lot of time in Miami Beach with officials who are already dealing with flooding from king tides. One of them, geologist Henry Briceno, tested the floodwaters of the 2014 and 2015 king tides and found faecal levels at all sites tested were above state limits for safety – even up to 630 times higher than allowed. In other words, sea-level rise ‘ain’t gonna be pretty’ as Goodell writes.

This is a fine and important book though it needed a much stronger call to arms to mitigate climate change through a rapid move away from fossil fuels.

ABOVE: Seasonal high tides flood a local street, Miami Beach, September 2015. PHOTO: Joe Raedle, Getty Images.

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