The Water Will Come | Jeff Goodell

Summary of: The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World
By: Jeff Goodell


Welcome to the riveting world of ‘The Water Will Come,’ which delves deep into the critical issue of climate change, rising sea levels, and their debilitating impacts on our planet. By weaving together scientific observations, real-life examples, and eye-opening statistics, this summary takes readers on a journey through the present-day challenges and future risks posed by global warming. From examining the destructive power of hurricanes and looming disasters for coastal cities, to discussing the questionable measures, impacts, and innovations aimed at adapting to the new global reality, this summary leaves no stone unturned in educating readers about the consequences we face and the urgent actions needed to preserve our world.

A Dire Future for Miami

Rising sea levels threaten lives and transform Miami into an underwater city in the event of a catastrophic hurricane. This disaster would leave many dead and cause widespread damage to infrastructure. Miami’s sea defenses are lackluster, and the devastation would be magnified by the false news of a reactor breach at a nearby nuclear power station. As the waters rise, buildings are swallowed up, and the city becomes a modern-day Atlantis.

The Devastating Impacts of Rising Sea Levels

As global warming continues, rising sea levels pose potential threats of catastrophic events such as Hurricane Katrina and Sandy. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) regularly updates its forecast of sea-level rise, which did not exceed three feet by 2100 in 2013. However, the rapid ice-sheet melting could raise it higher than six feet by 2100. In worst-case scenarios, if the current burning of fossil fuels continues, the temperature could rise to about 8°F and sea levels could eventually drown most coastal cities. The only effective solution, according to experts, is to stop burning fossil fuels and move to higher ground.

The Rise and Fall of Miami’s Development Dreams

South Florida’s once-submerged Atlantic Coastal Ridge, largely made up of porous limestone from dissolved pearly grains known as ooids, is home to over 5 million people today. However, indigenous communities like the Calusa who once lived harmoniously with the rising sea died off after exposure to European sailors’ smallpox. Over the years, Miami’s history has been shaped by the draining of the Everglades, the dredging of the Miami Canal, and the efforts of promoters like Carl Fisher, who saw potential in mosquito-infested Miami. Real estate boomed, but a Category 4 hurricane in 1926 left over 100 people dead, collapsing the market. Despite the looming threat of sea-level rise, politicians in Miami fear scaring off foreign investors and have failed to take ownership of the risk, while the US National Flood Insurance Program subsidizes at-risk properties. Nonetheless, conversations have arisen regarding the possibility of a “graceful retreat” for those who stand to lose everything.

Melting Glaciers and the Consequences

American climatologist Jason Box is concerned about the melting of Greenland’s massive glaciers. He predicted the rapid 2012 Greenland melt due to the effects of soot from US wildfires and China’s coal-burning settling on the ice and lowering its reflectivity. Compared to Antarctica, which holds seven times more ice than Greenland, the melting there is proceeding at a faster and accelerating pace. As a result, melting ice causes climatic feedback loops, leading to heat waves and faster melting. The fluctuations in mean sea level due to ice locking it up or releasing it, coupled with glacial rebound and undersea currents like the Gulf Stream, are inexorably affecting sea levels. Alaska’s dependence on fossil fuels is causing temperatures to rise twice as fast there as in the rest of America. Russia and China are among the nations eyeing the Arctic’s trillion-dollar resources, creating security implications, as evidenced by Russia’s fighter jets being sent to Alaska’s edge, missile test-fires off Greenland, and planting its flag 10,000 feet down in the seabed under the North Pole in 2007.

Barrier Illusion

High-tech barriers may not be able to keep cities safe from rising sea levels.

In the face of climate change, many coastal cities have turned to high-tech barriers to protect themselves from storm surges and rising sea levels. However, the effectiveness of these barriers is not guaranteed. One such example is the MOSE barrier in Venice, Italy. The $6 billion project, designed to protect the city from rising waters, has been plagued by corruption scandals and spiraling costs. Despite being partially complete, experts believe it will not be able to offer complete protection.

On the other hand, Rotterdam, Holland has taken a different approach. The Maeslant Barrier is an infrastructure project designed to hold back storm surges, but the city’s public squares also act as basins for surging waters. Social attitudes in Rotterdam tend towards living with water instead of fighting it, and this mindset has helped the city prepare for the effects of climate change.

In New York, Hurricane Sandy served as a wake-up call to the city’s vulnerability to rising sea levels. The proposed “Big U”, which includes a 10-foot-high reinforced concrete barrier, is designed to protect wealth-generating areas like Wall Street. However, experts warn that barriers may breed complacency and delay thoughts of adapting to the oncoming ocean.

Ultimately, nature pays little heed to barriers, and projects like the Living Breakwaters project offer innovative approaches to absorbing wave energy and filtering water. It is essential to understand that high-tech barriers may not be the solution to protecting cities from the effects of climate change and rising sea levels. Cities must learn to adapt and coexist with water instead of relying solely on barriers.

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