SOURCE: Rolling Stone
DATE: October 12, 2018
SNIP: Hurricane Michael, the third most intense storm on record to make landfall in the U.S., has caused widespread destruction, turning places like Mexico Beach, Florida, into a hellscape of broken homes and overturned cars. It will be a while before we learn the full extent of the damage — and the human suffering and death — caused by the storm’s 155 mph winds and the 14-foot storm surge that swamped the coastline.
Bad as the hurricane was, imagine the damage and destruction if that storm surge had been 15 feet or so higher. And if instead of receding, that wall of water never went away. That is what we could be facing in the not-so-distant future if we don’t dramatically cut fossil-fuel pollution.
If that sounds alarmist, watch this short video. In it, you’ll see a scientist named Richard Alley in a Skype discussion with students at Bard College, as well as with Eban Goodstein, director of the Graduate Programs in Sustainability at Bard. It would be just another nerdy Skype chat except Alley is talking frankly about something that few scientists have the courage to say in public: As bad as you think climate change might be in the coming decades, reality could be far worse. Within the lifetime of the students he’s talking with, Alley says, there’s some risk — small but not as small as you might hope — that the seas could rise as much as 15-to-20 feet.
To judge how radical this is, compare Alley’s numbers to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was released on Monday. That report basically argued that if we don’t get to zero carbon emissions by 2050, we have very little chance of avoiding 1.5 Celsius of warming, the threshold that would allow us to maintain a stable climate. The report projected that with 2 Celsius of warming, which is the target of the Paris Climate Agreement, the range of sea level rise we might see by the end of the century is between about one and three feet.
So why is Alley arguing that the risk of catastrophic sea-level rise is so much higher than the report that is often cited as “the gold standard” of climate science?
For one thing, IPCC reports are notoriously conservative. They are written in collaboration with a large group of scientists and are often watered down by endless debate and consensus-building.
Alley simply has a broader understanding of ice dynamics than many scientists, who tend to be highly specialized in their research. Alley’s analysis includes not only geology and paleoclimatology, but also a big dose of physics and engineering — which is especially helpful when it comes to understanding the possibility of rapid ice sheet collapse.
Alley is not the only one who has suggested that the risks of rapidly rising seas are higher than this IPCC reports acknowledges. The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, the top science agency in the U.S., says the seas are likely to rise by between one and eight feet by 2100.