The best and the worst

Some famous words come to mind as I follow ongoing research and policy relating to climate change: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair... “

On the side of wisdom, scientists continue to develop important information about the mechanisms and impacts of climate change and options for positive action. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has released a detailed study of the rate of flooding and long-term sea-level rise affecting U.S. coastal cities. The report documents record-breaking rates of flooding at 98 coastal gages, and projects that tidal flooding on the U.S. coastline will be 60% higher in 2018 than 20 years ago.

In January, the Department of Defense submitted a similar report to Congress detailing the threats climate change poses to 3,500 U.S. military installations around the world. The study identified flooding, extreme temperatures, wind, drought and wildfires as potential risks to defense operations. Flooding risks included intense inland storm events, coastal storm surge and sea-level rise, with all branches reporting impacts that affect national security and readiness.

The effects of climate change on civilian populations and military security converge in Norfolk, VA. This city of 245,115, home to the nation’s largest naval base, is experiencing sea level rise at twice the global average —six inches since 1992, with another six inches expected by 2050. Norfolk’s leaders are working with a coalition of scientists and community organizations to develop an innovative approach, viewing the problem through the lenses of climate science, environmental justice and economic development opportunities. Their preliminary report, “Vision 2100,” outlines proactive measures and some tough choices Norfolk and other cities may have to make, including zoning code revisions that require resilient building methods, limitations on future growth in flood-prone areas, and preparing for the necessity of relocating residents from the hardest-hit regions.

On the “worst” side (filed under “foolishness” and “incredulity”), the attacks on knowledge continue. Last December, the administration ordered the Pentagon to delete mentions of climate change from their National Security Assessment, despite a GAO report that concurred with a decade of Department of Defense research indicating that climate change poses a quantifiable risk to U.S. military operations. In May, hearings convened by the House committee on Science, Space and Technology to explore strategies to adapt to climate change devolved into a fake-science attempt to dismiss the effect of human activities on global warming. Committee chair Lamar Smith (R-TX) read into the record an op-ed by a climate change denier; Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) contended that the Antarctic ice is actually growing, and that global sea-level rise can be explained by rocks falling into the sea. To which Mr. Dickens supplies another apt comment: “Bah, humbug.” (NOAA) (Climate and Security Files) (Adaptation Clearinghouse)


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