Islands in the Coming Climate Storm

Climate Change Wade's World

            Marble Falls     There are a million problems to confront when we’re dealing with climate change.  Tackling the issue as a campaign, we have to sort out how to talk about it.  Not long ago on Wade’s World we looked at whether or not we might be more successful making the case with less doom and gloom and more humor.  Maybe so?  More recently, we talked on Wade’s World to University of Hawaii professor, Christina Gerhardt, about how she created a way to visualize climate change.  She had an intriguing set of ideas that she has now implemented.  She created an atlas that visually demonstrated how various scientifically accepted projections on rising ocean levels would impact islands around the world, and did so in a recently released book called Sea Change:  An Atlas of Islands in a Rising Ocean.

            The book is a unique publication.  When I received a copy in the mail, I thought there must be some mistake.  This was not the usual gnarly “do not sell” pre-publication thing that I get from so many PR people as part of their flackery.  This had all the look and feel of what my parent’s generation would have called a “coffee table book.”  In the scarce space of modern living, is a coffee table even a thing in contemporary housing?  I’m not sure, so we’ll hold that thought for another time, but you get the point.  This was a beautiful book with a protected cover and a million maps and illustrations, and boy am I still a sucker for maps.  Whether at camp or cabin, I’m always sitting in the middle of walls of maps of rivers, bayous, oceans, mountains, and trees from geological surveys, national parks, the forest service, and whoever does the great work of drawing the lines around our lives, lands, and water.  In Sea Change, the maps created by Professor Gerhardt’s colleagues show in various shades where the water lines on the selected islands were in 2020 and in most cases where it they will be in 2050 and then 2100, unless something changes.  This was not a pretty picture, even if the climate message had been deceptively packaged in a beautiful framework.

There were multiple takeaways from such a God’s eye view.  The first was horror, because in many cases huge percentages of the population in sometimes mountainous, volcanic islands were crowded close to the water line.  Where the islands are limestone-pocked atolls, it felt like the whole island might be going under.  The other reaction, perhaps more terribly a statement about how we all become inured to tragedy, was a surprise that sea level rise wasn’t taking away more of some islands than we might have thought, somehow making these absurd plans for creating land and moving people around seem viable.  The real point being made by Gerhardt is “act now” to prevent this, not “oh-wow”, we might survive this after all.

Another surprise in island hopping through the book was stumbling on some unexpected possible allies in the fight to stop climate change.  Professor Gerhardt pointed out that part of the economic engines driving island economies were tourism and the military, and the doubled-edged swords wielded by both.  The tourism industry is huge, but when it comes to the climate, we and the islands are on our own, but the vitality of islands for national and global security is another thing entirely.  Where politicians might turn a deaf ear to our pleas to prevent climate change,