"For most Americans, climate change is not a common topic of conversation...or something they hear about much in their daily lives." (Maibach, 2016)
While it may not be talked about, changes in climate do affect people's lives.
For example, rising sea level and a slight subsidence of the Atlantic coastline from Maine to Florida is creating the increasingly common problem: sunshine flooding, a regular event for Miami Beach residents.
As the ocean fills with water from melting ice, the tides which once were contained by sea walls, result in seawater flowing down streets.
The successful candidate for Miami Beach's mayor, Philip Levine, gave a whole new meaning to the term "running for office" when he paddled down a flooded street during his campaign.
The sunshine floods are no joke to residents of the Sunset Harbor neighborhood that has had its streets raised by 2 ft at a cost of $30 million. To cope with the street work, Miami Beach residents pay waterbills in the neighborhood of $350 a month! This is in addition to the $400 million Miami Beach is spending on a network of pumps and sea walls. (Milman, 2017)
Farther up the Atlantic coast, about 800 square miles in and around Charleston, South Carolina, is little more than 4 feet above the high tide line. This low-lying land is occupied by 54,000 homes on property worth $24 billion in Charleston and Beaufort counties. (Bowers, 2016)
Charleston's city and county governments have worked to protect these homes.
The city has already spent $23.2 million to protect against hurricanes by improving storm water sewage capacity. This investment paid off when Hurricane Joaquin passed by Charleston in September of 2015, and the city experienced only minor flooding. "We were thrilled," says Laura Cabiness, Charleston's director of public services, of the October 2015 flooding. "The system worked even better than expected." (Bowers, 2016)
But hurricanes are occasional threats. A more immediate threat comes from the daily cycle of tides driven by the gravitational effects of the moon, sun, and rotation of Earth. When conditions are right, there are super-tides, the so-called King tides. King tides, of course, are natural and predictable and therefore have been a regular feature of life since Charleston's founding in 1670, but add much higher sea levels and a King tide becomes a serious threat, and even a worse one if it rains during a King tide!
On April 28, 2017, flooding resulting from a King tide and rain shut down "Calhoun, King, East Bay, and Market streets. Floodwater also found its way onto some of James Island's primary streets, including Camp and Folly roads." (Darlington, 2017)
The steps necessary to mitigate the effects of the "nuisance" King tides are significant. $154 million will be spend for a system that will use 12-foot diameter tunnels dug 140 feet underground to collect the tidal water and take it to a pumping station fitted with three powerful 160,000 gallons per minute pumps to dispose of it into the Ashley River. But until this new system is switched on in 2021, the older pipes and pumps will still be overwhelmed and the Crosstown expressway will still be regularly closed by flooding. (Darlington, 2017)
The changes since 1880: an increase in Carbon Dioxide by 406.31 parts per million, a global mean surface temperature increase of 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit, Arctic ice decreasing by 13.3% per year, adding water to the ocean and increasing the sea level by 3.4 millimeters per year account for the changes in Charleston's "nuisance flooding." (NASA, Climate Change: The Evidence)
In 1955 Charleston suffered about 4 nuisance floods a year.
In 2015, there were about thirty-six such floods, followed by thirty-eight in 2016. A NOAA projection suggests that in 30 years, Charleston will have 180 such nuisance floods or about 1 every 2 days! (Darlington, 2017)
The experiences of citizens in Charleston and Miami Beach will be experienced across the U.S. in even the smallest town because there are no isolated events in an ecosystem.
A peer-reviewed study that appeared in the June 30, 2017 journal Science (Hsiang et. al., 2017) provides a set of projections of the impact of climate change in the U.S. by 2080. The research in the study suggests that for each degree Celsius increase in the Mean Global Surface Temperature (MGST), the U.S. will lose 1.2% in GDP. The impacts will not be uniform with the southern band of states suffering up to 30% reduction in GDP. Use this link to view the complete report.
We should probably talk more about climate change!
Bowers, Paul (2016) New interactive map shows effects of sea level rise on Charleston: Here Comes the Ocean. Charleston City Paper August 13, 2014 Retrieved from https://www.charlestoncitypaper.com/charleston/new-interactive-map-shows-effects-of-sea-level-rise-on-charleston/Content?oid=4972978 The interactive map is found at http://gis.charleston-sc.gov/interactive/slr/
Darlington, Abigail (2017). Here’s what you need to know about flooding in Charleston as thunderstorm season approaches. The Post and Courier, May 7, 2017. Retrieved from http://www.postandcourier.com/charleston_sc/here-s-what-you-need-to-know-about-flooding-in/article_56fc0f84-303c-11e7-ba94-0779c9261224.html
Hsaing, Solomon et.al. (2017). Estimating economic damage from climate change in the United States. Science 30 June 2017: Vol. 356, Issue 6345, pp. 1362-1369.
Maibach, Edward, Anthony Leiserowitz and others (2016) Is there a Climate “Spiral of Silence” in America? Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. Retrieved from http://climatecommunication.yale.edu/publications/climate-spiral-silence-america/
Milman, Oliver (2017). Atlantic City and Miami Beach: two takes on tackling the rising waters. The Guardian, March 30, 2017. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/mar/20/atlantic-city-miami-beach-sea-level-rise
Dr. John Holton
Dr. John Holton joined the S²TEM Centers SC in July of 2013, as a research associate with an emphasis on the STEM literature including state and local STEM plans from around the nation.
S²TEM Centers SC is an innovation partnership managed by South Carolina’s Coalition for Mathematics & Science at Clemson University. Its purpose is to serve South Carolina by growing the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) possibilities and capabilities of learners and leaders.
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