Meehan Crist reviews ‘The Water Will Come’ by Jeff Goodell · LRB 22 February 2018
This isn’t the first time in human history that global sea levels have risen dramatically in a short period of time. Archaeological evidence shows that when glaciers melted and sea levels rose at the end of the first Ice Age, humans living along coastlines packed up their communities and moved inland. But today’s coastal infrastructure is far less mobile. ‘There’s a terrible irony in the fact that it’s the very infrastructure of the Fossil Fuel Age – the housing and office developments on the coasts, the roads, the railroads, the tunnels, the airports – that makes us most vulnerable,’ Goodell writes. Major airports such as JFK and San Francisco International are likely to be underwater within a hundred years. The eastern coast of the UK will be altered for ever. Florida’s Turkey Point nuclear reactor, which sits perched on an exposed island in Biscayne Bay, is a disaster waiting to happen. Trillions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure and entire coastal economies have been built on land that will soon be flooded, and that’s without taking into account the road erosion, beach erosion and coming property collapse along coastlines, which could trigger economic plunges deeper than the Great Recession. Today, more than 145 million people around the world live three feet or less above sea level, many in poor countries in the global South. ‘As the waters rise,’ Goodell writes, ‘millions of these people will be displaced, many of them in poor countries, creating generations of climate refugees that will make today’s Syrian war refugee crisis look like a high school drama production.’ There is no longer any doubt that the rise in global sea levels will reshape human civilisation.