All at sea: The climate debate rages while U.S. waters rise
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America's climate change debate is like two ships passing in the night.
Aboard one vessel are the Republican candidates for president, many of the conservatives they appeal to, talk show hosts and a crew of others, all united in denial of the fact that the climate is changing. This ship sails in a fog of misinformation.
The other vessel carries most of the scientists in the nation and those who trust them, a group that includes environmentalists but also ordinary people who are disturbed by the evidence of their own eyes -- unprecedented hurricanes, retreating glaciers, snow-short winters and warmer springs.
But as the ships pass through the dark, the sea itself is rising -- and it has been since the late 19th century. While the passengers on the two ships disagree on a common course, knowledgeable people on land see the growing danger. The latest sign comes from another research project which will be dismissed by the scoffers only at their peril.
As reported by The New York Times, two new research papers produced by Climate Central, a nonprofit organization in Princeton, N.J., constitute a rare, far-reaching attempt to estimate the proportion of American people and communities at risk from the rising sea related to global warming. Studies in the past have tended to involve one community at a time.
The findings make sober reading. About 3.7 million Americans who live within a few feet of high tide risk being hit by more frequent coastal flooding in coming decades. Low-lying Florida is the most vulnerable state, but the coasts of Louisiana, California, New York and New Jersey are also likely to be hit by more common flooding.
As the Times story makes clear, these findings are ammunition for those who want the federal government to stop subsidizing coastal development. But even those who do not have beach houses at risk should take the information as another piece in a growing mosaic of evidence.
It would be a breakthrough if the passengers on the ships passing in the night could at least agree that the climate is changing as a prelude to debating the cause. But this admission will be harder for those on the ship sailing against the tide of facts. Unfortunately, theirs is a voyage of the damned.
First Published March 18, 2012 12:00 am