Seriously, I can’t believe this intelligence-insulting contraption known as the 2016 Election hasn’t exploded yet, like the unstable engine that it is. For anyone with even three functioning neurons, this year’s presidential contest has been a daily, sometimes hourly assault on the senses from which we may never recover as a society. There are a million examples of crimes committed against the thoughtful, but I’d like to focus on just one: the complete absence of any sort of meaningful discussion of climate change.
We had three Presidential Debates between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump. I somehow found the energy to watch all three, and never did I hear a question on climate change. This phenomenon even inspired a bit of wry humor from U.S. Senator Brian Schatz, D–Hawaii, shortly before the final debate.
“I am hoping that Fox devotes time to climate change at this debate,” Schatz Tweeted shortly before the final debate. “I’m also hoping to be six feet tall by Thanksgiving.”
The total lack of real debate on climate change in the presidential election is a tremendous victory to the nation’s oil companies and those who still, after decades of scientific inquiry and research, deny it exists. These people cling to the notion that climate change is a fraud and/or hoax perpetrated on our nation to kill the petroleum industry. In the meantime, scientists pump out depressing study after study that shows, yeah, much of the planet is changing right now, and not in ways that are beneficial to us or the myriad other species that share space with us.
Here’s one small local example, from earlier this month: researchers from the University of Hawaii’s Sea Level Center have found that our best historical ocean-level records may have actually led scientists to underestimate sea level change during the 20th century (click here to read their new study).
“It’s not that there’s something wrong with the instruments or the data, but for a variety of reasons, sea level does not change at the same pace everywhere at the same time,” said Dr. Philip Thompson of the UH Sea Level Center in an Oct. 3 news release from the University of Hawaii. “As it turns out, our best historical sea level records tend to be located where past sea level rise was most likely less than the true global average.”
Thompson’s biggest example of this concerns what scientists call ice melt fingerprints (the UH news release defines these as “global patterns of sea level change caused by deviations in Earth’s rotation and local gravity that occur when a large ice mass melts”). Put simply, sea-level rise doesn’t occur everywhere on the planet equally, so looking at these ice melt fingerprints in the past can give researchers an idea of what the world’s shorelines will look like in the future (the image below shows levels of sea level rise from the Greenland ice melt. The black circles identify the best historical water level records, which mostly fall in the blue areas that are less than one millimeter per year. As a result, according to the UH research, these records underestimate global average sea level rise due to the Greenland melt by about 25 percent).
“During the 20th century, the dominant sources of global ice melt were in the Northern Hemisphere,” states the news release. “The results of this study showed that many of the highest-quality historical water level records are taken from places where the melt fingerprints of Northern Hemisphere sources result in reduced local sea level change compared to the global average. Furthermore, the scientists found that factors capable of enhancing sea level rise at these locations, such as wind or Southern Hemisphere melt, were not likely to have counteracted the impact of fingerprints from Northern Hemisphere ice melt.”
This is scary, but it’s also esoteric–the nuances of scientific investigation aren’t something most of us talk about at the bar or even at home around the dinner table. Well, outside of Miami Beach, that is.
See, the willful exclusion of climate change from our nation’s presidential debates presupposes that it’s all just that: egghead theories that exist only in computer models. In fact, climate change right now is changing our planet’s landscape in scary, costly ways. It’s just not happening in places where the rich and powerful live.
“At noon on a brilliantly sunny day here, several blocks from the beach, a lake of salt water suddenly appeared in the street, filtered up from the porous limestone that resides underneath the whole county of Miami-Dade,” CityLab reported on Oct. 23. “On the corner of 79th Street and 10th Avenue in the Shorecrest neighborhood, people wandered outside their apartment buildings to stare at the rising water, sloshing through in rain boots to take out their trash.
“‘It’s been like this for a few days now, rising and then receding and then rising again,’ says Jessica Benitez, a resident who moved to Miami from her native Venezuela about a month and a half ago. She says she didn’t know these apartments would flood before she moved into them, and she still doesn’t know how to predict when the water is going to rise.”
The CityLab story is terrifying: middle- and lower-income residents forced to learn to live with ever-increasing flood damage from high tides that seem to take longer to recede each time they happen. “Today, the Miami area experiences about six of these sunny-day flooding events per year,” CityLab reported. “But the Union of Concerned Scientists projects that by 2045, they’ll be happening 380 times per year.”
This will continue to happen in low-lying areas like coastal Florida–and in Hawaii, as well–regardless of whether our presidential candidates wish to talk about it.
Photo of tidal flooding in Miami Beach on Oct. 15, 2016: Wikimedia Commons
Image of ice melt fingerprint from Greenland ice sheet courtesy University of Hawaii Sea Level Center