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Posted at 7:05 PM ET, 03/ 7/2011

Won't climate change help America?

By Stephen Stromberg

Ever heard this one: Even if the Earth's climate changes, warmer temperatures will be good for America -- longer growing seasons, perhaps? Or its cousin: Humans will simply do what they've done for millennia -- adapt to changing temperatures with different technology and behaviors? Isn't that better than letting that Al Gore do whatever it is that he wants to do?

Actually, this is a treacherously seductive line of argument, and a report Tuesday Monday on the Chesapeake Bay coastline from Washington's local NPR station, WAMU, shows why. Virginia is experiencing the fastest sea-level rise on the East Coast because of rising ocean levels combined with sinking coastal land. That is, it offers us a glimpse of the sorts of things that might be in store for coastal communities that only have to deal with global-warming-induced sea-level rise.

Residents complain about swamped docks and flooded streets. And Larry Atkinson, a professor at Old Dominion University, says that Northrop Grumman is worried after its dry dock in Newport News flooded last year. If this occurred regularly, it would halt production of aircraft carriers and other naval operations at a site that could otherwise be productive for decades. A 2009 Northrop Grumman report found that "future rise in sea-level is uncertain only in magnitude," imperiling the company's "several multi-billion dollar national assets" on American coasts.

Humans have adapted to life in a pretty narrow and predictable band of temperatures. It's foolish to dismiss the many and often obscure costs of adapting all this infrastructure we have built to different circumstances.

Clearly, we will have to do some adaptation to temperature increases already on the way. And geoengineering -- altering the planet to mitigate the effects of global warming -- could make climate change more tolerable and give us time to green the economy. But the question is how to strike the balance between adaptation and prevention, not whether we should simply throw up our hands and insist that we'll just get along like usual.

By Stephen Stromberg  | March 7, 2011; 7:05 PM ET
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Excellent points - it's important to constantly remind people that there are no quick fixes or wishful "adaptation" solutions that will make the climate problems we're faced with go away.

It's interesting that it's the global warming deniers who also claim that either the effects won't be as bad as climate scientists predict, or that human ingenuity will devise some quick fix to mitigate the problems.

If this is not an entirely consistent argument, it's because these are people who are willing to say and do anything so they and the corporations they own or work for can continue to despoil our shared environment.

Posted by: sambam | March 7, 2011 7:29 PM | Report abuse

Sigh. A Warmer planet is a GOOD thing !

Yes there may be dislocations... but 2 million years ago Siberia and northern Canada and Alaska had lush grasslands and temperate forests...

900 years ago Southern England had vineyards, Poland grew apricots... yes it was warm and Europe was lush and green.

Today it is colder and less green... we could really benefit from warmer temperatures.

Posted by: pvilso24 | March 7, 2011 10:57 PM | Report abuse

wrote: Sigh. A Warmer planet is a GOOD thing !

Thats, interesting, but then if you had a garden last year you might have noticed that when the hit wave hit here in Virgina, Cumber just stop producing, Tomatoes again bad season why the heat when its to hot the plants don't bloom. Also, If you think high temps are such a good thing you might want to look up: Permian–Triassic extinction event, 96% of life gone, one very possible reason raise in temperature +5 degress.

Posted by: markeverline | March 7, 2011 11:30 PM | Report abuse

Adaptation means many things and prevention only works if we know what we are preventing. Let's understand that first.
Also, I have never heard of sinking land being caused by human carbon emissions. I may have to look that one up.
It's good that this piece appears in this forum. I wouldn't have paid you full wages either.

Posted by: jbtaylor77 | March 7, 2011 11:43 PM | Report abuse

pvilso24 says that the fact that there were vineyards in southern England 900 years ago shows that Europe was lush and green at the time and that more warmth would benefit the world today.

The English have grown wine grapes regularly probably since the Roman invasion. 900 years ago, there were a few small vineyards in southern England. These were attached to religious, noble, or royal institutions and produced wine for the consumption of their owners. There was no foreign trade in English wine, and probably very little domestic trade.

Today, there are many, many more vineyards in England than ever before, producing wine for both the domestic and foreign markets. This great increase in vineyards has happened during just the past few decades. Using pvilso24's logic, that must be proof that England is a very great deal warmer today than it was 900 years ago and the world is in for very dramatic change, indeed.

Posted by: bobbeal | March 8, 2011 7:49 AM | Report abuse

The global warming is becoming more and more serious. If it is not mitigated effectively, our planet will change quite a lot. The influences are terrible and unpredictable. The continuous rising of ocean levels will lead to sinking coastal land and flooding coastal communities. The higher temperature it will be, the more changes of productions and nature will be. It is urgent to make proper plans and proposals to stop this situation. Starting from everyone, we may have a change.

Posted by: 0920302107 | March 8, 2011 8:20 AM | Report abuse

One of the more important predictions about future WEATHER from global warming is that there will be more extreme weather events of all kinds from freak blizzards, sudden cold snaps, bigger rainstorms (tornadoes, tropical storms), and longer and deeper droughts. Ask any farmer about the effect of uncertainty and variability in the weather on the ability to be productive -- variability from expected generally means less yield and more frequent crop failures.

Posted by: Arce1 | March 8, 2011 10:16 AM | Report abuse

There are sixty years of accurate temperature measurements at the South Pole from manned Russian and U.S. surface weather stations. There is no trend of either rising or falling temperatures, but atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration increased continuously year to year. This contradicts the "global warming theory" as the poles are to see the most significant changes. Climates in other areas and the satellite measured total average atmospheric temperature appear to be strongly related to Pacific Ocean oscillations. Ocean oscillations can change the watery Arctic but not the land based snow and ice of the Antarctic. Therefore, whether various of the earth's numerous climates are cooling or warming, there seems to be little to no relation to carbon dioxide releases during modern times. So adapt, instead of wasting wealth and fossil carbon on "feel-good" "green" schemes that just lead to higher and higher food prices and diminishing liberty.

Posted by: mctiguep | March 8, 2011 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Good points. The only thing that is a bit misleading is the juxtaposition of rising sea level damage and geoengineering. The lag time (a/k/a thermal inertia, or commitment to sea level rise) for additional atmospheric heat to warm the ocean and melt the ice is such that it will rise for centuries given the increased warming to date. Even geoengineering the climate to reduce temperature will not stop sea level rise. It might slow it. Those who welcome warmer climate have likely not considered what the present high end projection of six feet of sea level rise this century would mean, with more to come in the next century. Our entire coastal civilization was built up to the shoreline as if the coastline and sea level are permanent. This ignores basic geology that sea level rises and falls about 400 feet with each ice age. Just 20,000 years ago, it was almost 400 feet lower than today. We ignore or joke about rising sea level at great peril. This adds urgency to dealing with the rising greenhouse gas levels, now at 390 and climbing.

Posted by: johnenglander | March 8, 2011 10:49 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: jbtaylor77: "Also, I have never heard of sinking land being caused by human carbon emissions. I may have to look that one up."
Don't bother, it's not. The subsidence is likely due to that other 'human' impact in the quest for fresh water supplies--overpumping o ground water. The enhanced sea-level rise in the Chesapeake area is completely due to man's enhancement of natural processes through the burning of fossil fuels and extracting fresh water from the aquifer. If things continue unchecked much of the currently inhabited area along the shores of the Chesapeake and the its rivers will become uninhabitable.

The greater consideration is the impact climate change has on weather patterns in N. America, especially with regard to both oceanic and continental cyclones. Hurricanes are a weather phenomena shared with all other continents across the tropics. They are growing in both numbers and intensity.

The tornado, however, is largely confined to N. America. These highly destructive storms are also rapidly increasing in occurance and intensity. They are beginning to appear earlier and continuing to appear latter in year. Tornados used to be a summer storm phenomena. Now they can come in early Spring or late Fall/early Winter.

Tornados can kill hundreds or thousands of people a year, which is tragic. However, they wreck billions of dollars in crop damage across the world's breadbasket, the American Great Plains. These storms alone can threaten human survival by destroying our food sources.

Consider this the next time some fool discounts mans impact on our climate.

Posted by: old_sarge | March 8, 2011 11:02 AM | Report abuse

As a matter of fact, England is considerably warmer than it was just a few hundred years ago when the Thames in London used to freeze from shore to shore. The currently thriving wine industry in England has been the subject of recent articles with at least some of the success of varietal grapes being attributed to the current warming trend.

Posted by: socaloralpleazer | March 8, 2011 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Relax As George Carlin pointed out, the *Earth* will be fine.

Humans? We may have problems. Maybe we shouldn't have built high-value buildings on barrier islands (good-bye, Miami Beach) or done any one of a million other stupid things.

But we did, and now life may change. My eight-miles-inland Florida home may be on the waterfront one day. And yes, we may soon start snobbing out over Minnesota Cabernets, while former California vineyards become desert dude ranches and fat farms.

Water skiing in Siberia will be a great new source of revenue for Russia. And, after a short but violent struggle and a lengthy period of withholding sex, Saudi women will wear bikinis instead of burkhas.

Not all change is bad folks. Not at all.

Posted by: roblimo | March 8, 2011 1:34 PM | Report abuse

The reality is that, while sea levels have been rising steadily for the past 15,000 years (to the tune of a total 270 feet) the current rate of sea level rise is less than the average for that period. The obvious conclusion from that fact is that raising air temperatures have not resulted in additional ocean level increases, but rather, in diminished ones, if there is any relationship between both, at all. Clearly, the flooding in Chesapeake Bay is related to sinking land, which has nothing to do with aquifer depletion. The latter condition would lead to salinization of the underground water, not to land collapse, which only occurs in closed non-porous reservoirs. Attributing what are basically geological occurrences to climactic changes is a dangerous simplification.

Posted by: rightspokeBlas | March 8, 2011 1:51 PM | Report abuse


...That is, it offers us a glimpse of the sorts of things that might be in store for coastal communities that only have to deal with global-warming-induced sea-level rise.

You made that up. The interviewer and the professor never made that ridiculous claim.

Posted by: drowningpuppies | March 8, 2011 2:01 PM | Report abuse

Human beings are reactive rather than proactive for the most part. The proactive cultures mostly got that way from having to prepare for a coming winter. I'm certain it took lots of winter starvation for that lesson to sink in. Expecting the species to change overnight is just foolish. It's not a matter of whether we will adapt to a new temperature regime. It's a matter of when and how many will experience great pain in the change.

Don't buy any coastal property. The maintenance is horrible anyway.

Posted by: edbyronadams | March 8, 2011 2:11 PM | Report abuse

to all,

ANYONE, who actually believes in "manmade global warming", is "an IDIOT in search of a village". - the SOLE goal of "AlBore", the "environomentalist" fringe lunatics & others of that LYING sort is to get MORE of your freedom & money to poop-off on another, in a long series of NON-existent, "crisis".
(may i remind you of the old saying that: "a fool & his money are soon parted.")

of course there ARE "naturally occurring climate cycles" of heat & cold, which are caused by the Sun.- those cycles are IMPOSSIBLE for humans to change.

NOTE to ALL: when i was in grad school at Tulane in the 1970s, all the same sort of "climate experts" & "noted scientists" were warning about/trumpeting/whining about "a New & Davastating Ice Age", within 10-15 years.
(did i sleep through the ICE AGE in the 1980-90s? - funny thing, i don't remember it.)

yours, TN46
coordinator, CCTPP

Posted by: texasnative46 | March 8, 2011 4:52 PM | Report abuse

Is the earth warming? Uh YEAH, is it solely the result of human activity? No, it is a combination. We are most likely increasing the current interglacial warming, but not the sole cause. What can we do about it? in truth very little since there is NO political will to take any serious action. People can and should look at their behavior to reduce the use of resources, buy what green products you can, reuse what you can, and recycle all you can. But we must all realize that it will get alot warmer before something happens to send us the other way. Politicians are the ones who need to get a spine and realize they need to act, not just here but around the world. The biggest threat to our future is not here in the US or actually anywhere in the west it is the developing countries who feel maligned by the industrial nations "telling" them they cant do it like we did. That is where the focus should be, here we just need to actively start building as if the sea levels will rise 50 feet in the next 20 years. Yes a bit extreme but who can be certain how bad it will really get?

Although Saudi women in bikinis sounds nice, as does wind surfing in the Bering sea, Hella waves and good winds there.

Posted by: opspwcjc | March 8, 2011 4:52 PM | Report abuse

"Sigh. A Warmer planet is a GOOD thing !"
Uh, no.

All five of the biggest mass extinctions in Earth's history were the result of climate change. Significant, rapid climate change is NEVER a good thing.

Our entire civilization was designed and built for the climate we have now. We could adapt to slow, natural change, but a rapid change would (will) be a disaster.

Posted by: chrisd3 | March 9, 2011 7:33 PM | Report abuse


"sea levels have been rising steadily for the past 15,000 years"
Not "steadily". Almost all of the post-glacial sea level rise was finished by 8,000 or so years ago. Averaging the SLR over that entire period is meaningless because you're including vast amounts of continental ice that melted thousands of years ago.

Try averaging it over the period since we've been building permanent ports and setttlements on the coasts, say the last one or two thousand years. The current rate of SLR is MUCH higher than that average.

Posted by: chrisd3 | March 9, 2011 7:44 PM | Report abuse

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