On February 2, 1978—41 years ago!—The Wall Street Journal warned in a headline that “Low-Lying Lands Could Be Submerged by Climatic Disaster.”
Fears of apocalyptic sea-level rise are nothing new despite the fact that they seem to have recently taken on a new life of their own, especially in South Florida, where I live.
The only scientific correlation I can make with any certainty is that these fears rise in direct proportion to the number of socialists elected to Congress.
So, let’s first talk about the science of climate change as it pertains to sea-level rise.
Dr. Roy Spencer, who has a Ph.D. in meteorology, writing in An Inconvenient Deception, states that compared to Al Gore’s warnings of a sea-level rise of 20 feet, the actual measurement is one inch per decade for over 150 years with no observed acceleration.
This could not be true if it were anthropogenic (human-caused), since there has been ample time for acceleration since 1940, “which is the earliest that humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions could have had any substantial effect.” Sea-level rise is a process that is mostly natural since it “predates the Industrial Revolution,” Dr. Spencer explains.
This may be small comfort to the people living in Miami Beach, for example, where sea-level rise has been worse than the average. But a 2017 study reported that the land is sinking at a rate of 3 mm per year—equal to the sea-level rise—causing a doubling of the effect and magnifying the rise of water at lunar high tides.
No one should “deny” climate change per se. It is a characteristic of the planet upon which we live.
The argument boils down to how much of it is due to relatively recent anthropogenic increases of atmospheric carbon dioxide compared with the Earth’s natural climate fluctuations caused by other factors including solar activity.
And it’s not just the science that is on the side of those appealing for moderation. Earth’s climate history also has a story to tell.
A graph of the Earth’s mean temperature over the last 2,000 years shows two previous periods when temperatures were warmer than they are now; from 1–200 A.D., an epoch called the Roman Warm Period, and more recently the Medieval Warm Period from 900–1100 A.D.
Historical records during the Medieval Warm Period report many benefits such as extended growing seasons, a reduction in infant mortality, and the explosive growth of Europe’s population. The Vikings colonized portions of Greenland and were able to plant warm-weather crops such as potatoes.
It is worth noting that both of these climate optima occurred centuries before the discovery of fossil fuels and the invention of the internal combustion engine.
Getting back to that 41-year-old Wall Street Journal headline, the article that accompanied it reported that the temperature rise due to the burning of oil and gas would result in a “sudden deglaciation of the West Antarctic, unfreezing enough water to raise world sea levels by five meters (about 16 feet).” It was further stated that such a sea-level rise could “result in the submergence of much of Florida, Holland and other low-lying areas in the next 50 years.”
That scenario, though, depended on the worst-case scenario for greenhouse gas emissions, the worst-case scenario for warming, and the worst-case scenario for the effect of warming on the ice. None of those was at all likely, and none of them happened.
It was far more likely that continental ice melt would continue at about the rate of the past thousands of years—about a foot per century, meaning it would take 1,600 years to achieve the feared 16-foot rise.
And indeed that’s what’s happened. Sea level has continued to rise at about the same rate of a foot per century or 1.2 inches per decade. To achieve the 16 feet warned of 41 years ago in 50 years, the rate would now have to jump to 208 inches per decade—nearly 200 times as fast. Does anyone want to put a bet on that?
If you’ve ever visited a new housing development, inland or along the coast, it doesn’t matter, you already know the sandy soil is littered with the shells of mollusks. Have you ever wondered why?
A December 3, 1993, article that appeared in The Sun-Sentinel may have the grim news: “Rising and falling ocean levels complicate the geologic picture. The coast has shifted several times, which is why shells can be found far inland ….”
Apocalyptic sea-level rise may simply be just a thing of the past.
Gregory J. Rummo is a Visiting Instructor of Chemistry at Palm Beach Atlantic University. The views expressed in this column are his own.
Correction: According to ClimateFeedback.org, over the past 2,000 years, the Earth's mean temperature has not been higher than it is now. More specifically, there is no concrete data to support the claim that, globally, the Earth was warmer during the Roman or Medieval eras, as stated in this column.