Can you hear me now? Weeks ago before Hurricane Katrina rearranged the geography along the Gulf Coast, flushing out the Big Easy, inflicting billions of dollars in property damage and claiming the lives of hundreds, with the body count likely to reach into the thousands, I posted a commentary on global warming on my Codfish Press blog (24 comments to date), citing evidence that global warming may be intensifying storms in the Atlantic.
We got a taste of what a powerful storm can do locally with Hurricane Bob in 1991, and for those who were alive then, there was the Great Storm of 1938 that took hundreds of lives. Don’t touch that dial! The Weather Channel, no doubt in years to come, will be reporting on a big blow—Category 4 or 5—lumbering in our direction. It will carve Cape Cod up into a series of islands like the Florida Keys and will flood low-lying areas downtown Boston like Revere Beach on a moon tide.
I saw Congressman William Delahunt Saturday at a social gathering in Boston and engaged him in a discussion on the subject. “I want to know what the federal government’s plan is in the event a major hurricane hits Boston or Cape Cod?” Delahunt asked rhetorically.
The answer is a fat: nothing. Every man, woman, child and politician to him or herself!
I repeat my global warming column here, just to keep the debate going. There are many angles to this issue, some of them sharp as you can discern from comments on the Codfish Press blog. You may subscribe to global warming theories; you may not. But one thing is as certain as sunset, a killer storm will be headed in our direction one day. And what are we doing about it? I’m reminded of the closing line in the grim television movie: The Day After.
“Is anyone listening? Anyone at all?”
Not everyone is tone deaf on the subject. Some environmentalists are embracing a new Massachusetts Institute of Technology study that indicates the intensity of North American hurricanes has more than doubled in the last 30 years and that the force of western North Pacific cyclones has swelled by an alarming 75 percent since the mid-1970s. The glee is over speculation that the increase is the result of global warming from a buildup in the ozone layer of man-induced carbon dioxide, methane, various pollutants and other chlorine-based chemicals that have caused a depletion of the outer layer of our atmosphere, which shields us from dangerous radiations, like cancer-causing ultraviolet rays. Harmful radiation, seeping through the ozone layer, also causes genetic damage to plants and animals.
For years, critics—many of them corporate defenders fearing government regulations on chlorine-based fluids for refrigeration, plastic foam compounds and aerosol cans—have tried to poke holes in global warming presumptions, questioning their veracity and insisting global temperatures are directly related to sunspot activity.
But the environmentalists look like they might have it right this time. Now there is evidence, although disputed by some, that global warming intensifies hurricanes, cyclones and tropical storms. Warmer ocean temperatures, caused by rising air temperatures, as the theory goes, provide hurricanes with more fuel for energy. Warmer water temperatures also result in the release of more carbon dioxide, which holds heat and increases warming.
“When I look at these results at face value, they are rather alarming,” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researcher Tom Knutson, commenting in the Associated Press, said of the MIT study that was conducted by climatologist Kerry Emanuel.
Equally disturbing is a recent report from two University of Maine scientists that two glaciers in Greenland are moving at a record pace, suggesting that global warming is melting the ice and causing it to slide at a faster rate, in one case at a rate of 8.7 miles a year, up from 3.5 miles a year in the 1990's. Such changes in conditions, experts say, usually take thousands of years.
Closer to home, scientists are concerned about the affects—brought on by global warming—of rising sea levels in Boston, Cape Cod and along the entire New England coast. Scientists estimate that in the next 40 years the Cape’s shoreline will retreat more than 100 feet and by the year 2100 more than 1,200 feet of Cape shoreline will be inundated. The center of Provincetown may be flooded in tens of years, one erosion authority predicts. Martha’s Vineyard will also be severely impacted, and Nantucket is expected to be under water in the next 800 years—a New York minute in geologic terms.
Adding to this problem is that while the sea level is rising, some coastal areas of the Cape and Islands, formed from silt sediments, are actually sinking—slowly compressing under their own weight.
Provincetown and Chatham aren’t the only areas of the Cape facing severe erosion. Others include Falmouth Heights, where the cliff is falling into Vineyard Sound and still undermining the coastal road above it; Sandwich and West Barnstable, where beaches like Sandy Neck can lose 10-to15 feet in a single storm; Mashpee, where the shoreline is eroding from Waquoit Bay to Popponesset Bay and exposing high-priced homes to the sea; Dennis on the bay side, where the popular Corporation and Cold Storage beaches are losing ground; and Orleans (most recently the Outer Beach which has experienced storm and tidal breaches into Pleasant Bay, creating a temporary island that in time may be permanent) Eastham, Wellfleet, and Truro on the bayside and ocean sides.
The same uncompromising forces are at play on Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, and the neighboring Elizabeth Islands, all part of the same moraines and outwash plains that formed Cape Cod. Time is running out for Nantucket: on the east, south and west shores, from Great Point to Siasconset to Madaket, beaches of this low-lying spit are losing an average of ten to 30 feet a year. That’s impressive when you consider the island is about three and a half miles wide and 14 miles long.
The menacing oboe you hear today over on the Vineyard has nothing to do with sharks. Martha’s Vineyard, which is losing shoreline a similar washout rate on its northeastern, eastern and southern shorelines, faces similar fate.
So why the fuss about global warming? It is what it is, and to ignore it invites disastrous consequences. Evidence of human-induced global warning cannot be ignored, warns the Union of Concerned Scientists. The debate over what to do about it ought to be driven by science not politics. And the science here sadly suggests that one day we may all have a water view.