Troubled waters: Report says oceans rise as Trump denies
Annapolis, Maryland, pictured here in 2012, is an example of “nuisance flooding,” which grows worse for areas like this. This type of flooding causes public inconvenience and damage to infrastructure, and it is a short-term example of the large-scale flooding that will someday affect the country - and the world - at large, as global warming causes sea levels to rise in the years to come. | NOAA News, with permission from Amy McGovern

As the Trump administration maintains its denial of climate change, a new report offers a powerful and detailed look at how that very real threat will affect coastlines in the U.S. and around the world. The study, released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), provides six different scenarios on how sea levels could rise. The most extreme possibility said that oceans could rise nearly 2.5 meters by 2100.

Even the best-case scenario, however, would have critical repercussions on everything from health and safety to infrastructure. The coastlines, in particular, will be at risk. The report noted: “Rising seas will dramatically increase the vulnerability of this growing population, along with infrastructure relating to transportation, energy, trade, military readiness, and coastal ecosystems and the supporting services they provide.” Sea level rise is “a certain impact of climate change; the questions are when, and how much, rather than if.”

The effects of rising sea levels will disproportionately affect the coasts of the Northeastern U.S. and the Western Gulf of Mexico, compared to averages in other parts of the country and even around the world. The prime contributor to this oceanic rise is, of course, the rapid melting of Arctic ice from global warming, as mentioned in a previous report issued in 2012. That report continues to be depressingly vindicated, as confirmed this past year, when 2016 saw polar ice diminish to record lows.

These elevated waters could render several cities extinct by 2200 – including New Orleans and Metairie in Louisiana, and Cape Coral and Hollywood in Florida. New York City would also be partly underwater, displacing at least 1,870,000 people.

The report was co-authored by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Environmental Protection Agency, the South Florida Water Management District, and scientists from Rutgers and Columbia University. The federal agencies involved have since been meddled with by the very right-wing climate deniers who would likely denounce or otherwise obfuscate the data collected in the NOAA report.

A glaring exemplar of this kind of behavior is Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general who President Trump appointed to be the new head of the EPA. Pruitt, the very man who sued the agency 13 times, is now set to lead it. In terms of environment, the general consensus seems to be – at best – that this appointment is tantamount to undermining the very aim and mission of the EPA, but it’s not the only thing that will choke the agency.

A recent executive order by Trump states that “unless prohibited by law, whenever an executive department or agency publicly proposes for notice and comment or otherwise promulgates a new regulation, it shall identify at least two existing regulations to be repealed.” While the ramifications of this law will be ridiculous and numerous, environmentalists are dreading the negative impact it will have on the EPA.

Kenneth Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said such an order could put the agency in an impossible position. Calling it “absurd,” he said that it “imposes a Sophie’s choice on federal agencies. If, for example, the EPA wants to issue a new rule to protect kids from mercury poisoning, will it need to get rid of two other science-based rules, such as limiting lead in drinking water and cutting pollution from school buses?”

At a U.S. Senate confirmation hearing on Jan. 18, Pruitt was asked to say whether he agreed or disagreed with numerous climate facts, among them being “the atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen . . . ” Pruitt ignored this and other questions, making only an evasive reply, in which he remarked that perceived differences of opinion among scientists regarding climate “should be the subject of robust and open debate.”

The NOAA has collected data on climate conditions for 137 years, and its analyses are based on science, not opinion – though for how much longer, one cannot say. That’s because the administration looks set to be compromised in much the same way as the EPA. In a move that is almost comically absurd, Trump has appointed Kenneth Haapala, of the infamous, climate-denying Heartland Institute, to serve on the administrative team handling appointments for the U.S. Department of Commerce, which in turn oversees the NOAA. This potentially puts de facto control of the NOAA in the hands of those who think climate change is a hoax.

One NOAA employee, who did not want to reveal his name, said he and his colleagues were deeply alarmed by the appointment. “The NOAA doesn’t get as much attention as the EPA,” he said. “But it is a pretty big target for people that want to shut down climate change science and findings they find objectionable.”


CONTRIBUTOR

Blake Skylar
Blake Skylar

Blake is a production manager, responsible for the daily assembly of the PW home page. He also writes on environment and culture. He has covered issues including the BP oil spill and the UN Climate Conference in Paris. His coverage has earned him awards from the Illinois Woman’s Press Association and the International Labor Communications Association. He is currently in Weehawken, in his home state of New Jersey. He likes cats, wine, books, music, and nature. He writes a blog that can be found at blakedeppe.com.

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