The local news rag for Falmouth, Massachusetts on Cape Cod is called the Falmouth Enterprise, a small publishing empire comprising several towns on the west end of the Cape. The Enterprise, an old family concern, tends to be provincial in style – though perhaps parochial would better describe it. Though they do a decent job of covering the local news, I tend to suspect that they also manage to cover up things they deem it better for the public not to know. Selectmen driving drunk perhaps. Incompetent police chiefs maybe. Rich residents pulling political strings in town hall perhaps. The sorts of things local papers tend to do everywhere. The usual sins. And the writing is too often… well, a few of their writers could use a copy of Writing With Precision by Jefferson D. Bates – but on the whole they’ve gotten much better at writing than they used to do.
I should fully disclose that I’ve lived here, on and off, in the same house, for fifty-five years, and once worked for the Cape’s daily newspaper, now called the Cape Cod Times. And that I regard the Cape as a place utterly destroyed by the song stylings in 1957 of Patti Page, whose warbling, though pretty, encouraged hordes of tourists and settlers to overrun the place and destroy most of the beauty and charm. Ultimately greed destroyed the place. It ain’t pretty no more. It has pretty spots and it has the National Seashore on the Lower Cape, but on the whole, no, it ain’t pretty.
Be that as it may, the bigger issue is that Cape Cod is a low-lying seaside resort peninsula sticking out into an ocean that is, by all scientific accounts, dying, swelling, and rising. The science is in: there is no legitimate debate – this biosphere is dying, life is going extinct at an accelerating rate, the temperature is rising, and the seas are rising. And humans are responsible. Questioning the science is, at this point, irresponsible, if not criminally stupid.
The climate is a great planetary flywheel. Humans have put energy into that flywheel by filling the atmosphere with greenhouse gasses, and now the flywheel is energizing itself through feedback loops. To wit, the Arctic icecap melts, the open sea warms, thus melting more ice, warming the sea further, which warms the atmosphere, and soon the warmer planet begins to melt permafrost and release methane which increases planetary warming which melts more ice, and so on. We’ve kicked the system into runaway motion and other than a drastic and catastrophic curtailment of the use of fossil fuels nothing will stop it. It’s accelerating. Scientists discover that the predictions of last year, indeed of last month, are no longer valid, that last years foot and a half sea level rise in this century has become six feet, or more, and sooner than any of them thought possible. And life in the sea is at risk, serious, deadly risk of massive extinction: in case you might think that, well, you’ll just eat cows and corn instead of fish, you might want to recall that one-third to one-half of our oxygen is produced by bacteria in the sea.
We might also keep in mind that scientists are notoriously conservative when making public pronouncements and predictions. So it would be fair to believe that right now the scientists are screaming ‘Fire!’
Obviously little is being done to mitigate global warming. Political will is lacking, crippled not only by politicians fearing for their jobs if they tell the truth and take appropriate actions, but also by corporate and wealthy elite interests doing their very best to sabotage not only any mitigative action but even any responsible discussion. In sum, the rich are willing to kill most life on the planet in order to line their pockets with more money gained from producing goods and services which are responsible for creating the greenhouse gases that are killing us. One might consider that the rich already have more money than they can spend in a hundred lifetimes, but they want, as the rich always do, more. I believe these people should be regarded as criminals.
We have also, of course, a culture of people who demand gewgaws and gimcracks like tablet computers and big cars and five hundred different models of cellphones to choose from, thus feeding into the whole system that is crashing down on their heads.
Then we have newspapers like the Enterprise that contribute to the childish and magical thinking that stifles the outrage people should be feeling, that would drive actual change for the good of the biosphere. Which brings me to the genesis of today’s rant in Grumpy Lion, that cause being an editorial appearing in the June 26, 2012 edition, on page five, said editorial titled ‘Planning For Sea Level Rise’. I’ve reproduced the editorial in full below.
A little context: Surf Drive is a beach road that is only a couple of feet above sea level. It is very pretty in an old Cape sort of way, or would be if the town had refused to allow people to turn private bathhouses into actual houses right on the narrow strip of beach sand between Surf Drive and the sea. The houses, sitting on stilts, are picturesque in one sense, and ugly, very ugly in a more profound sense. And the Cape, as noted, is a low-lying peninsula which depends for drinking water on lenses of underground water which are subject, should the sea rise somewhat, to saltwater infiltration.
Herewith the grand editorial of the Falmouth Enterprise on sea level rise:
Planning For Sea Level Rise
Sea level is rising faster along the Atlantic Coast of the US and globally, according to a study released this weekend by the US Geological Survey. And based on the data, USGS reported, the rate of sea level rise on the East Coast will continue to increase.
The rise is incremental – measured in millimeters a year – but significant. Cities such as Boston are taking the situation very seriously. The Boston Globe reported yesterday that the city has already begun mapping low-lying areas and the Boston Water and Sewer Commission will begin inspecting sewers, storm drain connections and pumping stations in order to assess what needs to be done to prepare for the rising sea level.
Sea level rise will obviously have the greatest impact on coastal cities and their billions of dollars of infrastructure, but coastal communities, including Falmouth, will have to plan for the eventuality as well.
As a Jeff Williams pointed out in an article published in the Enterprise last month, Falmouth is already experiencing the effects of sea level rise with increased erosion, and over wash of low areas such as Surf Drive and West Falmouth Harbor.
Falmouth officials have begun planning. Last year the town took part in the state StormSmart Coasts program.
But that program focused largely on emergency management systems. While that is good because it will help the town qualify for FEMA funding in the event of a large storm, it doesn’t address the larger issues. And some are large indeed. Low-lying roads will be affected. Many will remember that parts of Surf Drive were washed away during Hurricane Bob. Eventually it might be that it will take a lesser storm than a hurricane to do the same damage. How can such roads be protected? Or should they be abandoned? The answer to the latter is almost certainly not.
These are big questions, too big to be answered behind closed doors at Town Hall. Eventually the community will need to be involved with the planning process.
Aside from virtually ignoring real sea-level rise by pointing at occasional storm surges, the writer of this magical editorial chooses to engage in high-school cheerleading when he writes, “How can such roads be protected? Or should they be abandoned? The answer to the latter is almost certainly not.”
Really? Surf Drive is likely to be permanently under water within a few decades. It is likely that Main Street, less than a mile away in the center of the town, will follow soon after. In due time, by which I mean considerably less than the thousand years some predict, and considering the rate at which climate is changing, the town will be uninhabitable, if not entirely under water. It is not inconceivable that Falmouth could be uninhabitable, along with much of the Cape, within this century or the next. But the best the editorial board of the Enterprise, and papers like it around the country, the best they can come up with is ‘Rah! Rah! Rah! Let’s save Surf Drive!’
I find it interesting that a corollary discussion, that of sewering the town to protect five or six coastal ponds from nitrogen pollution at a cost of a half billion (yes, billion) dollars, has entirely avoided the issue of global warming and sea level rise. Those ponds will soon belong entirely to the ocean and those sewers, off which some people will make a considerable amount of money, will be utterly useless. The Enterprise has yet to produce a serious, ongoing discussion of that matter in relation to global warming.
I would suggest that perhaps the reason for such a pathetic piece of editorial work is that the powers-that-be at the paper seek to protect the commercial interests who might be upset that speaking truth might keep tourists away and money out of the merchants’ pockets; or perhaps some of those rich people who want more and more and more have had a word with the publishers, suggesting that they tone down any mention of the coming catastrophe, for the, you know, good of the community. I could, of course, be wrong. It could simply be that the combined weight of editorial thinking at the paper amounts to little more than what it seems – high school cheerleading in the face of madness.
But it doesn’t matter. The sea will rise no matter what the editors of the newspapers think, no matter what the politicians do or don’t do, no matter what the rich think they can get away with. The seas will rise, humanity will fall. The Enterprise and its ilk just insure that the fall will come faster and harder and that the survivors will be screaming, “Why didn’t you tell us the truth?”. Said survivors would likely burn down the Enterprise offices if said offices were not by then well under the sea. Besides, given the availability of legitimate information on planetary warming these days, no one has the right to ask that question, now now, not in the future. But people do have the right to demand of the Enterprise and its kind why they focus on Surf Drive when civilization, indeed humankind itself, verges on extinction.