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The Future


Before I retire from teaching, I wonder if I’ll be able to teach a course called “Lost Environments,” where I tell students about what were once coastal ecosystems that are now under water because of our headlong rush into climate change? I can show lots of pictures of the Everglades and Bangladesh and Louisiana and Pacific Islands. I can talk about all the extinctions that are taking place. Everyone can share stories of how their parents and grandparents homes are now underwater and how their drinking water is now saline. We can tour the multi-trillion dollar seawalls keeping New York dry, seawalls that will inevitably collapse and inundate America’s greatest city. Because this is the future.

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  • And how their entire populations being evacuated from islands NOW. Pay attention to the “canaries in the coalmine”, so to speak. You’d think the adorable Polar bears would be a clue.

  • Murc

    Why do you say ‘inevitably?’

    The Dutch have been keeping their people dry for literally centuries. Seawalls and dikes seem to work just great if you invest the time and effort into them.

    (This is in no way meant to be a trivialization of the very real disasters we will be facing when the waters begin to rise. It’s just me saying.)

    • Seawalls and dikes seem to work just great if you invest the time and effort into them.

      But the rich all live in penthouses, so they can just boat around.

    • Emma in Sydney

      Well this was the argument being made recently on Crooked Timber by denialist economist Richard Tol. The right flogging he received didn’t seem to deter him, at all.

    • Marc

      The magnitude of the change is too large, and the poor countries in the world don’t have the resources to build such massive infrastructure investments. What would it cost to build barriers around the coast of Bangladesh?

      • DrDick

        Micronesia has few resources and consists entirely of low lying atolls that will quickly be drowned. Even if they built seawalls/dikes, they would have no more fresh water. A number of islands in the Indian Ocean have either already disappeared or are well on their way to doing so.

    • Hogan

      How long is the hurricane season in the Netherlands?

      • Exactly.

        Boston? NYC? OK, maybe.

        But Miami? Good luck with that.

        • Malaclypse

          Boston? NYC? OK, maybe.

          Not even there. Boston is all landfill, and NYC can have massive storm surges. And keep in mind that as the Atlantic warms, storms will hold their strength further north.

          And neither of these cities has adequate evacuation routes. You’ve been on the Mass Pike westbound on a normal summer Friday, I’m sure. Now multiply that traffic by about a hundred.

  • Hey, you can show them pictures of Glen Canyon and tell them about Hetch Hetchy right now.

    Those are certainly instances of man changing the environment not necessarily for the better.

  • UberMitch

    Hey, Holland’s dykes have worked for centuries! I’m confident Manhattan will do just fine.

    • Yeah. There are lotsa dikes in Manhattan.

    • rea

      Ah, yes, the famous story of the little Dutch girl who saved everything by putting her finger in the dyke . . .

      • Warms the cockles of the heart don’t it? I love the classics.

  • Anonymous

    U drunk?

  • Downpuppy

    Why wait?

    There’s already 5000 km2 of Mississippi delta gone, thanks to flood control. You can take a class to the 9th ward & show them ruins now.

  • DrDick

    You could do that now, though it would be different environments. The Romans deforested Spain and rendered much of it desert. The Aztecs and their neighbors did the same to central Mexico. There is also Cronyn’s work on the transformations of the ecology of the eastern US (the Plains is another radically transformed environment).

  • Halloween Jack

    Sadly, “Venice on the Hudson” is already taken.

  • Don’t worry, if you taught long after that, you’d likely be able to teach about glaciers and stuff too- it gest colder and it gets warmer as the sunspots cycle, and so if wetlands disappear, they’ll reappear again, unless you suddenly become God or something.

    Take it from me- I am a teacher.

    • I hope you’re not a science teacher, because you haven’t the foggiest idea what you’re talking about.

      Chart of sunspot activity and global temperatures here.

      • DrDick

        I pity his students whatever the subject is. This kind of profound stupidity and ignorance tends to be pervasive and systematic.

        • Malaclypse

          I pity his students whatever the subject is.

          According to his blog, he teaches, Cthulhu help them, social studies.

          • Downpuppy

            Lord Tebow help those kids if they have to read his blog. Monstrously padded fairy tales of how the Invisible Hand blessed the Earth until Evil Commies got us thrown out of Free Market Eden.

            Insulting his students on the nets seems a bit over the top, also too.

    • Malaclypse

      I mean, sure, billions of people will die before the carbon cycle normalizes, but as long as the planet itself does not get destroyed, who cares? And we will not manage to actually destroy the planet.

      Take it from me – I am not a crackpot.

      • Murc

        You just think there’s too many states nowadays.

        • Malaclypse

          And there is a good chance that rising sea levels will eliminate at least three.

          • DrDick

            Florida is definitely on the list, as is about half of Texas. I am starting to think that there may be an upside to this after all.

  • Beauzeaux

    The poor will of course, die first — though it will take some time and be very painful. (Not to the rich countries. We’ll survive as long as we have the bodies of the poor to stand on.)

    Unquestionably, the history of humans makes grim reading. Now after several thousand years of written record, most of the planet is still wallowing in superstition and violence. I think it’s too late to turn that around as quickly as it needs to be.

    I’m confident that our species will eventually make the planet unsurvivable. Sooner rather than later. I don’t find this distressing — we have bungled it rather badly.

  • Après moi, le déluge!

    Never thought I’d be “passing” around the same time the rest of my species went.

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