The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World
© 2017 Jeff Goodell
Complex problems of enormous scale rarely have a patent solution. There are, however, rational responses. In The Water Will Come, Jeff Goodell reviews the way a few cities across the globe are moving to address the growing problem of rising sea levels, from flat denial to grandiose plans to raise entire city centers. Goodell visits Miami, New York, Venice, and communities in the Arctic circle, Nigeria, and the Marshall Islands. Although Goodwell is hopeful that action can be taken, he’s left with the grim conclusion that many communities may simply be abandoned and their people removed to higher ground.
Goodell reviews both the various ways rising water will threaten communities near seaboards, as well as their responses. Rising waters will lead to widespread property forfeiture, of course, but floods and storm surges will become worse. Invasive waters are not simply the ocean with a bigger footprint: waters sweeping through urban areas become toxic soups of offal and waste fluids, providing a perfect vector for health crises While it’s easy for most people alive today not to worry about 2100, and easier still to shrug and say that those clever people of 2099 will no doubt have extraordinary technology to solve these problems, rising floods today are an immediate risk. Hurricane Sandy added particular impetus to New York City’s own risk assessment goals: they intend to build floodwalls around some of the most vulnerable areas. Venice, Italy, has been fighting its own reclamation by the sea for centuries, but tidal flooding has grown worse and the city now finds itself struggling to complete a controversial tidal barrier. While Miami is wealthy enough that it can conceivably plow money into infrastructure to help it adapt to the future, places like the Marshall Islands can only look abroad for help. If the Marshalls are reclaimed by the ocean, their population will have to find new homes abroad — and as the migrant crisis provoked by the ISIS gang-state indicates, that won’t be pretty.
Goodell’s survey involved interviews with policymakers and scientists alike, and helps readers understand why more actions aren’t being taken. Many Miami developers don’t care about sea level changes because they’re short-term investors: once they sell the development, they move on. The future peril of the development is for its owners and subletters to worry about. There’s also the fact that climate response has to be mediated through society and governments that are not only unwieldy, but beset with other considerations as well. President Obama may have believed strongly in the threat posed by change, but when he’s badgered by the author as to why he allowed the Alaskan oil pipeline to continue, the president patiently explained that no president is truly free to do what he wants; he enters office with wheels already in motion, and he has to not only work through Congress but take into account politics and economics. If Goodell succeeds in promoting the need to plan for rising sea levels, it will owe to the threat itself and not his delivery; he appears to see only this problem, and dismisses any opposition. He refers to multiple people as “[cityname]’s Trump”, or “the [country-adjective] Trump”, but that’s confusing to say the least. Are they trumplike because they’re developers? Populists? Overenthusiastic twitter-ers?
This is an important matter for concerned citizens to consider, especially in seaboard communities like Miami which are already fighting “sunny day flooding” because increases in sealevels have submerged their seaside drain outlets.