Question of the Week #294

If your family lived in a low-lying area like New Orleans or Miami Beach, how might it change any of your lives if you knew global warming would raise sea levels a foot each century and submerge the entire place in a few hundred years?

Much like the people of ancient Atlantis, we would construct elaborate breathing apparatuses… apparati? Anyway… over the centuries, our people would evolve and mutate, gaining the ability to breathe underwater.

Okay not really…

Look, we really didn’t need Ida’s reminder this week of how dangerous it is to live in low-lying areas on the coast. Back in 2005, when Katrina hit New Orleans, I remember thinking how dumb it is to live in a place by the gulf that is below sea level. And I don’t mean to call the citizens of New Orleans dumb. It’s a city that’s existed for centuries and the people’s roots run deep. But one must also remember that it’s a city that was built in a swamp.

I don’t know where I heard the following quote, but it’s stuck with me… and I’m paraphrasing… “America is a land with no ruins.” Sure, part of that is because this is the New World and our buildings haven’t been around long enough to age beyond civilization’s march and become ruined. But it’s also because we have a tendency to rebuild whenever nature takes a moment to remind us who’s in charge.

Think about the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco. The city was utterly devastated. So what did they do? They built on top of it, giving us the city we know today. When Katrina destroyed the levees and submerged New Orleans, what did they do? Reinforced the levees and pumped out the water so they could rebuild. I know that there are still a lot of places in and around New Orleans that remain untouched after Katrina (and will remain so following Ida), but that doesn’t mean they will stay that way forever.

Obviously my feelings would be different if I had familial or emotional connections to any of these places in question. It’s easy for me to logic my way through it and say that the smart thing is to move away. But I also understand that people have strong ties that can stretch back for generations and that can make real change difficult to embrace.

What about you? Would you remain in low-lying coastal areas with the foreknowledge that the sea level will rise? Would you plant your roots and begin a family that could last for generations, even if the rising oceans promise to make life difficult for them in the years to come? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

*The Question of the Week can be found in The Book of Questions by Gregory Stock, Ph.D.

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