Posted by: bmeverett | November 26, 2010

Climate Change Sinks the Titanic

A short post for a short work week. This Thanksgiving, I am grateful to all my research assistants at The New York Times. Without the diligent efforts of The Gray Lady, I would have to search every week for the prevailing economic, energy and environmental fallacies of our day. The hard-working staff of the Times saves me this effort. It would be better if they didn’t present all this nonsense as news, but I’ll take it as it is.

This morning’s paper (November 26, 2010) has a wonderful front-page story entitled “Front Line City Tackles Rise in Sea” by environmental reporter Leslie Kaufman, one of my personal favorites. The story describes the flooding problems faced by residents of Norfolk, Virginia. The fourth paragraph of the story claims, “As sea levels rise, tidal flooding is increasingly disrupting life here and all along the East Coast, a development many climate scientists link to global warming.” OMG! If only we had heeded the warnings of scientists and watched “An Inconvenient Truth”, none of this would have happened.

Many people just scan the headlines when they read the paper – always a dangerous practice for NYT’s subscribers. Six paragraphs into story, Ms. Kaufman reveals an inconvenient truth: “Like many other cities, Norfolk was built on filled-in marsh. Now that fill is settling and compacting. In addition, the city is in an area where significant natural sinking of land is occurring.” OK, Ms. Kaufman, is there really no difference between sea levels rising and land levels falling? Subsidence is a serious problem in many locations. Take the beautiful city of Venice, for example. A recent Italian study (“Land Subsidence in the Venetian area: known and recent aspects”, Giornale di Geologia Applicata (2005)) estimates that Venice sank by about 23 cm (10 inches) during the 20th century. The authors attribute 3 cm to natural subsidence, 9 cm to subsidence caused by removal of groundwater and other mechanical causes and 11 cm to sea level rise. What’s the situation in Norfolk? How much of the flooding is due to sea level increase and how much to land subsidence? Couldn’t the reporter even bother to ask some people and maybe do a little arithmetic?

Just for fun, here’s a fictitious story from the April 15, 1912 edition of the Times:

CLIMATE CHANGE SINKS THE TITANIC. Nature struck a severe blow to climate deniers yesterday when man-made climate change caused sea-levels to suddenly rise 12,600 feet above the steamship RMS Titanic, drowning 1,500 innocent people. Democrats in Congress blamed the tragedy on the failure of the Republicans to support a cap-and-trade bill that would have prevented this ecological disaster. The White Star Line, owner of the Titanic, continues to cling to the bizarre “iceberg theory,” which is apparently making the rounds among oil tycoons, armaments manufacturers, social Darwinists, Ku Klux Klansmen and other fringe groups. One highly respected scientist contacted by the Times dismissed this idea, claiming “The idea that a ship’s captain could fail to see something as big as an iceberg is simply laughable.”


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