KQED’s Forum program devoted a full hour this morning to recent projections for sea level rise and the threat it poses to California. Listen to the archived program here.
I joined host Michael Krasny and guests Peter Gleick and Will Travis, to discuss some of the recent findings. Travis heads the Bay Conservation & Development Commission and Gleick’s Pacific Institute issued a new report on the impacts last week.
Travis is just back from a trip to The Netherlands where he was studying some of the engineering techniques that the Dutch have deployed, to keep the North Sea at bay. Gleick has been tracking the issue here in California since 1990.
Gleick’s impact projections were underscored last week when scientists at a climate conference in Copenhagen projected a potential one-meter rise in the mean sea level by the end of this century, depending on how soon and how much we’re able to cut greenhouse gas emissions. That’s a pretty significant adjustment from the 2007 UN report, which had the rise pegged at a foot or two over the same time span. And two months ago, a USGS-led report postulated that a four-foot rise isn’t out of the question.
Some interesting questions and comments that came in from listeners:
– Sewage treatment plants in the Bay Area recently overwhelmed by storms are one glimpse into a future with higher sea levels.
– If pumps that convey water through the giant state and federal water projects in the Central Valley were solar-powered, it would reduce the carbon footprint of moving water around in California (often cited as 20% of our electricity use).
– A barrier at the Golden Gate could help “stem the tide” and potentially be part of a plant generating tidal power (Travis was skeptical).
– The Earth’s rotational bevavior also affects sea level and should be factored in.
In response to a listener who asked about a recent newspaper column that was dismissive of the prevailing climate science, I got the following note from Dave Johnson, a former Silicon Valley lawyer who teaches at Stanford:
“As to the climate-change contrarians, my short-form answer is this: I favor giving the scientifically-credible contrarian point of view some credit, and quite likely more than Al Gore or others would like. Why? Not because they necessarily have the science part right (or closer to right) than the IPCC. Rather, it’s because the problem itself is a very complex system. Science is just now scoping the boundaries and behaviors of complex systems; to predict their behavior (especially of non-physical systems) will, to paraphrase Edward Witten, require ’22nd century’ knowledge. As such, we all have to recognize the possibility, if not likelihood, that the global climate system might do things that we cannot fathom, much less predict. One possibility is self-correction to an equilibrium that can hold for another century or two. The other, sadly, is the converse – a spin-out into disequilibrium. Objectively, each has its percentage of possibility; so, objectively, each has to be seriously considered. In short, whether I agree or disagree with the contrarians is, objectively, of no moment whatsoever. In science, the strongest advocate of a particular conclusion must embrace the most aggressive testing of that conclusion. “
Hard to disagree with that. It’s always perilous to dismiss contrarian views out of hand. Galileo was a contrarian.