Act now to stop environmental destruction

by Mike Heral

What causes sea level to changeAmerica’s reaction to the rising sea level is even more disappointing than the San Diego State’s men’s basketball season. Or I should say, our non-reaction to rising sea levels. When we were young and scared of monsters under our beds, we’d close our eyes and pretend the monster wasn’t there. Our wishing made the monster go away. Pretending climate change and a rising sea level isn’t happening will not make it go away. Irrational denials have lasted too long. The time to prepare for rising sea levels is now. Too bad San Diego isn’t listening.

According to KPBS, the United Port of San Diego and city of San Diego recently submitted plans to expand the San Diego Convention Center to bond investors. The convention center needs a $520 million expansion. I’m sure their proposal emphasized the convention center’s $1.5 billion in regional economic impact. However, the issue isn’t what our civic leaders included, it’s what they didn’t. Specifically, they didn’t tell financiers anything about projected sea level rise.

Sea level rise is SDSU public health professor Richard Gersberg’s specialty. Gersberg participated in the San Diego Foundation’s creation of sea level projection maps for the area. The results are chilling. The report projects a sea level rise ranging from 18 inches to 4 feet by 2050. The convention center—along with most low-lying waterfront areas—could be taking on water. Here’s hoping those expansion plans include a super cool water slide.

It gets worse. By 2100, rising sea levels could reach 6.5 feet. If it does, the ocean will reclaim 43 percent of San Diego County beaches. Put in perspective, that’s roughly the equivalent of Mission Beach and Ocean Beach combined. If San Diego officials aren’t telling bond investors that, one wonders what they don’t want us to know.

Mayor Bob Filner occasionally talks a good environmental game. When pressed, he speaks of how San Diego is leading the way in solar energy and climate change preparation. But sparse discussions don’t provide sea level issues the urgency necessary to raise public consciousness. Without it, there isn’t inspiration to act.

Maybe it’s wrong to expect our politicians to lead anymore. Perhaps the time passed when presidents such as Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy could push America out of turmoil and onto the moon. At least President Barack Obama exerts a token effort for energy reform, even though he knows Congress won’t budge, regardless of the stance he takes. After all, our nation hasn’t even agreed on a budget since 2010. How could we ever expect politicians to agree on something as controversial as climate change?
Sadly, American politicians aren’t any different than their citizenry. We are just unwilling to change our way of life. For example, we refuse conversion to the metric system. Unlike knowing how many feet are in a meter, dragging our heels on climate change is asking for disaster.

“Everyone has to do their part. We have to mobilize the globe,” Gersberg said.

Skeptics decry disaster predictors, pointing to Y2K. If you don’t remember, Y2K involved a computer code shortcut, with the first two digits of the year fixed at 19. Experts stated computers would stop working on Jan. 1, 2000, because computers would register the year as 1900 instead of 2000. However, the predicted financial and energy meltdowns never happened and the world felt duped. There are two major differences between Y2K and global warming. First, there wasn’t any proof Y2K was already happening. Second, there was a simple solution: Programmers merely reprogrammed computers.

Climate change is already here. We can’t just reprogram Mother Nature back to pre-Industrial Revolution pollution levels. The world is warmer. Sea levels are higher. Increases in greenhouse gas accumulations are documented. Ice shelves are melting. Just how much climate change factors into superstorms such as Hurricane Katrina and Winter Storm Nemo is debatable. However, the decision to act is no longer questionable.

“If we keep doing business as usual, it (sea level rise) could be worse,” Gersberg said.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 53 percent of America’s population lives on the coast. Sea level rise threatens businesses, including the convention center and tourist shops, and even homeowners. Inadequate preparation could result in mass relocations. This is especially troubling for San Diego, considering the region’s historical rate of high occupancy.

Protection costs. Imagine how much less the cost would’ve been if San Diego began preparing for sea level rise in the ‘90s. Imagine how much more it will cost if the city waits another decade to begin. The more cities wait to fortify threatened communities the more the taxpayer will pay.