Some would refer to “High Tide on Main Street” (HT) as a wake-up call, which it is, but it’s also considerably more. While I was reading it, I was reminded of an intervention, where an addict is confronted by family and friends, with the object being that the addict can no longer pretend that his actions hurt only himself, and that his behavior has consequences that affect not only his life, but the lives of others. Our addiction to fossil fuels has consequences for all of us, and that’s what HT is all about.
There is no hyperbole here, no dystopia, just the facts from the world’s leading climate scientists presented in a forthright, well-written manner by an individual possessed of a perfect background to tell the story.
The opening paragraph sets the tone for the entire book:
“When all the ice sheets and glaciers in the world melt, sea level will be approximately 212-feet (64.5 meters) higher than it is today. That paralyzing fact is independent of any confusion about climate change. It has happened before and will happen again.”
There are some surprises here for climate change deniers, as the author pokes some holes in a few of the urban legends that certain interests have promoted to minimize and obfuscate the truth of the situation in which we now find ourselves. One of these is the myth that we are merely experiencing a normal climate cycle that will soon reverse itself. From Chapter four:
“We know that the most recent ice age peaked about 20,000 years ago, and that we are now roughly at what would normally be the warmest point of the 100,000-year ice age cycle. This is corroborated by the fact that sea level is now essentially at the high point of the up-and-down cycles of the last several million years of ice ages…
Following that pattern, and assuming no significant human impact, temperature and sea level should be reversing direction and heading into a cooling phase. A lot of scientific evidence suggests that this was actually starting to happen over the course of the last few centuries.” (Emphasis mine)
But as we know, sea level, as well as temperature is not going down, but up. As the author points-out, most of the world’s climate scientists consider carbon dioxide levels to be the main culprit in taking us out of the normal climate cycles and into uncharted territory. There have been times in earth’s history when the CO2 levels have been as high as they are today, due to volcanic activity, and other causes. Referring to a 2009 article in the journal Science, the author says:
“This scientist’s highly-qualified team published a study, rigorously reviewed by peers, which found that it has been 15 million years since carbon dioxide levels were as high as they are today. Such levels of carbon dioxide corresponded with global temperature about 10 degrees F (6 degrees C) hotter and sea level roughly 100 feet (30 meters) higher than today’s)” (Emphasis mine)
So, we apparently are in a great deal of trouble, and in more ways than one. Although HT does mention some of the other ramifications of climate change, such as droughts, more violent storms, food shortages, etc., most of his attention is focused upon the direct effects of rising sea levels over the next few centuries, and what can be done to mitigate some of them. One of the disappointing things I learned while reading was that there isn’t much we can do, at this late date, to spare ourselves from many of the consequences we’re facing. Regardless of what we do, the science says ocean levels will continue to rise for at least several hundred years, as we have passed some important tipping points.
The realization that sea level rise would begin to affect the area in which I was living, the Southeastern coast of North Carolina, within my lifetime, led me to leave that area for higher ground a couple of years ago. Some of the “solutions” to sea level rise will be individual, as mine was, others will have to be implemented by governments, and HT discusses the forms that some of these may take. Can you imagine a dike across the Golden Gate? How about the Strait of Gibraltar? Today, as I sat down to finish this review, there was a news story about a proposed dike around the city of New York. This was also proposed in HT.
Climate change is going to force many alterations in not only our lives, but certainly the lives of our children and grandchildren. Acceptance of the facts about sea level rise is the first step in understanding the necessity of dealing with it instead of ignoring it, as our society has done up to now. As I said in the beginning, HT is an intervention, aimed at breaking-down the denial system of a culture addicted to an energy source that it cannot continue to exploit. The evidence is all around us, all we have to do is open our eyes.