The press has been reporting a lot about walls recently. They have also reported some scary news about climate change. While it may seem incongruous, the issues are connected.
Scientists with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently issued a frightening alarm that if humans continue to emit greenhouse gases at the present rate, by 2040 our planet, its ecosystems and our social, economic and physical well-being will have sustained irreversible damage. U.S. Federal agencies recently estimated that by the end of the century, climate change effects will cost more than 10% of our nation’s Gross Domestic Product and more than every states’ budget.
Yet, while our nation debates the efficacy of a wall—solid concrete, see-thru steel slats or any combination of materials—some governments, recognizing the threats posed by more severe California wildfires, more intense hurricanes such as Florence and Michael, rising seas along Alaska’s coast caused by receding glaciers, are taking the IPCC’s warnings seriously.
The Dutch, for example, used iconic windmills to pump water from dikes for centuries to keep their below sea level country dry. After a 1953 North Sea storm destroyed hundreds of miles of dikes causing catastrophic flooding, they began building an integrated system of dams, dikes and sea walls to keep out rising seas and violent storms. Recognizing climate change, the Dutch have built giant sea walls they call storm surge barriers with 20-feet high hydraulic sluice gates that control the flow of rising water. The cost: $2.5 billion.
American cities recognizing the dangers from climate change have borrowed from the Dutch example. Boston, facing rising seas and the potential loss of $80 billion in shoreline real estate is considering a similar 4-mile, 20-feet high sea wall. After Hurricane Sandy devastated lower Manhattan, New York got $335 million from the Federal government to help build a 10-mile U-shaped barrier around the Lower East Side to guard against another massive storm surge. In California, where along its 1,100-mile coastline, seas rising at an increased rate have eroded beaches and carved away bluffs, state and local governments are planning multi-pronged approaches from relocating and elevating roads to halting coastal development and building sea walls and breakwaters.
One California legislator remarked that the cost of protecting the coast would be “one scary number.” Yet, despite the obvious imperative to protect our vital coastal infrastructure from the obvious danger of climate change, our national debate on building a wall to protect our country from an arguably non-existent threat continues, while an undisputed real threat is looming on our coasts. Perhaps we are building the wall in the wrong place.
- UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: https://www.ipcc.ch/
- Climate Change Costs To US GDP: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/23/climate/us-climate-report.html
- Dutch Sea Wall: https://interestingengineering.com/netherlands-billion-dollar-sea-wall
- Boston Sea Wall: https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2017/02/18/seas-rise-city-mulls-massive-sea-barrier-across-boston-harbor/dxtlbGrfSmYE2zacwUKakJ/story.html
- New York Sea Wall: https://www.businessinsider.com/new-york-city-flooding-manhattan-coastal-barriers-2018-4
- California Sea Barriers: https://www.spur.org/publications/urbanist-article/2009-11-01/strategies-managing-sea-level-rise
- California Sea Level Rise: https://www.coastal.ca.gov/climate/slr/
- California Sea Level Rise: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/rising-sea-levels-will-hit-california-harder-than-other-places/
- California Rising Seas Cost: https://calmatters.org/articles/california-response-rising-seas/