“Sea level rise” is such an innocuous phrase. It sounds like the coming in of the tide, like it will creep up on us slowly. Like we’ll be able to look out our windows and say, “Yep, it’s higher. Might be time to think about building a levee . . . or maybe moving.” It implies all the time in the world – or at least enough to safely react.
I spent my early adult years thinking this way. Now I realize it’s not like that at all.
The sea level won’t rise calmly, like a filling bathtub, and our coasts won’t recede gently. They will spasm beneath the onslaughts of storms like we’ve never seen before, suffering devastation that leaves them permanently deformed. The sea won’t “rise” so much as it will pounce, borne inland by superstorms and Cat 5 hurricanes.
When I saw pictures of New Orleans underwater during Katrina, Haiti and New York underwater during Sandy . . . when I see the pictures today of Houston underwater because of Harvey and as we all brace for the horrors sure to be delivered by Hurricane Irma, I don’t think, “My god, look at the flooding.” I think, “This is a glimpse of the future. This is what the new coastline will look like.”
It is happening. It is happening as we speak, before our eyes, the world over. It is happening just as the world’s climatologists predicted it would, and it is the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced.