Climate Change Literature that Made Waves in 2017
This is the third year I’ve compiled an annual climate change reading list and it’s the hardest one I’ve put together yet. The year 2017 has served up so many books, reports, and news stories that merit consideration, it's been hard to narrow it down.
The amount of material is a reflection of the rapidly developing understanding of the impacts of climate change, and it’s also a function of how much attention these issues get when three major hurricanes strike the United States, and Larsen C, a chunk of ice the size of Delaware, breaks off and floats away from Antarctica (by the way…check out these amazing art installations NRDC helped bring to life on that topic!).
SEA LEVEL RISE AND ITS IMPACTS
The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World, Jeff Goodell
This book came out in October and it has made the "best of the year" lists of the New York Times, the Washington Post, and many more. It’s not a science book per se, but a stellar ensemble of reporting on how people and communities are thinking (and not thinking) about the tides that are now rising. Miami, Florida: We'll do anything, except stop developing coastal property. Venice, Italy: Let’s build a big gate that costs a whole lot and doesn’t account for sea level rise. Voila!
Takeaway: As the oceans encroach on the world’s cities, it’s shocking how little is being done to address this growing problem.
Global and Regional Sea Level Rise Scenarios for the United States, NOAA
Whenever a new sea level rise study comes out, you can almost bet the news isn’t good. NOAA’s most recent projections came out in January 2017 and certainly proved that point. The new worst-case scenario for the East Coast is about 9.8 feet of sea level rise by the end of this century, which is more than three feet higher than NOAA's worst-case scenario from 2013.
Takeaway: The worst-case scenarios for sea level rise keep getting worse while the U.S. government shirks it’s responsibility to combat climate change. Depressed yet?
Evolving Understanding of Antarctic Ice Sheet Physics and Ambiguity in Probabilistic Sea-Level Projections, Robert Kopp, et al.
Remember what I said above about new sea level rise studies and the news not being good? Well, this study proves the point again. Coming out at year’s end, new modeling indicates that the Antarctic ice sheet may be far more unstable than previously understood. If that proves correct, the East Coast could see up to 11 feet of sea level rise by century’s end.
Takeaway: Don’t be fooled by the rather technical title of this paper…it’s scary. Very scary.
Seeking Higher Ground: How to Break the Cycle of Repeated Flooding with Climate-Smart Flood Insurance Reforms, NRDC
The National Flood Insurance Program helps people rebuild their home after a flood—no matter how many times they flood, no matter how much cheaper it would be to help homeowners relocate, and no matter how much the owner would prefer to relocate. So, let’s reform flood insurance! Reform 1: Help people move out of harm’s way when they tire of repeatedly rebuilding after floods. Reform 2: Make flood maps that accurately reflect current and future flood risks. Reform 3: Provide home buyers with information about how frequently a property has flooded and maybe they’ll decide it’s not worth the risk.
Takeaway: Rebuilding a house multiple times and expecting it to not flood again is a stupid way of doing business. But that’s the business model of the National Flood Insurance Program…unless Congress listens to us and changes it!
How Federal Flood Insurance Puts Homes at Risk, New York Times Editorial Board
This editorial lays out the many failings of the National Flood Insurance Program and a suite of solutions that NRDC wholeheartedly agrees with. Reform 1: Help people move out of harm’s way when they tire of repeatedly rebuilding after floods. Reform 2: Make flood maps that accurately reflect current and future flood risks. Reform 3: Provide home buyers with information about how frequently a property has flooded and maybe they’ll decide it’s not worth the risk.
(Hey, these sound familiar...they must be very good ideas!)
Takeaway: When we give people bad information and then pay billions to make them live with the resulting bad decision, we shouldn’t be surprised by the bad outcome.
Floods: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, HBO
John Oliver has a well-deserved reputation for explaining complex issues and making the tragic something to laugh at. This segment (which NRDC was flattered to be consulted on) exposes all the problems endemic to the National Flood Insurance Program and offers some solutions: Reform 1: Help people move out of harm’s way when they don’t want to rebuild anymore. Reform 2: Make flood maps that accurately reflect current and future flood risks. Reform 3: Provide home buyers with information about how frequently a property has flooded and maybe they’ll decide it’s not worth the risk
(Wait a minute, these are the same reforms, again! So, they must all be great ideas! Feel free to share with your members of Congress.)
Takeaway: Okay, okay! I’m putting a television program on a reading list. But 4,582,583 people watched this on YouTube (at the time of this writing) and more watched it on HBO itself and, well, who READS anymore?!
DEALING WITH AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE
The House of the Future is Elevated, Amanda Kolson Hurley, The Atlantic
This article lays out the challenges of how homeowners will cope with repeated flooding from storms and sea level rise. There are two alternatives the government will help pay for: 1) raise your house on stilts and hope you raised it high enough, or 2) accept a buyout of the property and move somewhere safer, which will definitely keep you from flooding and is often cheaper for taxpayers. The third option is to simply abandon your home, which isn't very attractive.
Takeaway: “Water seeks the low spots; we need to seek the high spots. It is just that simple.” (quoted from the story)
Buyouts Won’t Be the Answer for Many Frequent Flooding Victims, Lisa Song and Al Shaw, Pro Publica
Houston and Harris County, Texas lead the nation in efforts to buy out flood-prone properties. But they also lead the nation in the number of flood-prone properties. And they’re falling further and further behind the curve, as more homes flood each year. They’re hardly alone as this is a national problem that needs a national solution.
Takeaway: If we don’t help people get out of harm’s way, and we keep allowing more people to move into harm’s way, then guess what….?
Evaluating the Impact of Climate Change on US State and Local Issuers, Moody’s Investor Services
Moody’s, whose business is evaluating the financial risk of lending money to governments and corporations, says that climate change is going to affect communities’ bottom line—eventually. But communities that get ahead of the curve and reduce vulnerabilities to flooding, sea level rise, drought, etc. will be in far better shape than communities that just wait for disasters to happen to them.
Takeaway: Somebody’s going to pay for the impacts of climate change. If you live in a community that’s not dealing with these problems, it’ll be you.
American War, Omar El Akkad
This brilliant novel follows two sisters as they make their way through an America where climate change has not only altered the nation’s geography, but split the nation asunder in another Civil War between north and south. This novel’s portrayal of a future America is terrifying because it seems so plausible, given the current political climate. This book is making many “Best of 2017” reading lists and you should get a copy as soon as possible.
Takeaway: Climate change won’t just disrupt people’s lives, it could very well change the trajectory of entire nations in a very bad way, including this one!