January brings snow some years and king tides, the highest of high tides, which occur at the winter solstice and in the fall. The fall flood waters, at the confluence between the Stillaguamish River and Puget Sound, are at the most dramatically high level with November rains up in the Cascades. The dike around this farm was especially well highlighted between snow and water a few years ago, in winter.
At present, the City of Stanwood, Washington is trying to get funding together to strengthen the dikes that were built by hand by the original pioneers. These were tough people, Scandinavians, who could wade ashore and think, “Aha! If we got out here with shovels and created dikes to dry this land, it would make very good farmland.” They did. And these farms tend to look prosperous. Some farmland was sold for homesites and lots for businesses and municipal structures. A city hall. A fire station. A library. Some schools. It is still a small town, but it has a thriving life. The City Council has recently devoted itself to promoting downtown revitalization, with plans for a Main Street and a decorative ironwork arch over a street access point to proclaim a downtown ready for business and tourism.
This is all at current sea level, or within a few feet. There is an upper Stanwood, which is uphill on State Route 532 by at least a couple hundred feet. The School District recently passed a large bond issue to build a large new high school on the upper plateau. Lower Stanwood is the focus of much civic attention because it is a charmingly historic town from the early twentieth century.
People whose families have lived here for generations all remember flooding in some years, going back into time. The Stillaguamish river runs along the south side of town, with farm fields further to the south which flood most years by a foot maybe, or two. These are generally springtime floods that come with rain and the melting of snow up in the Sierra Cascade mountains just a few miles to the east. If the rain and snowmelt combine with a king tide, then you get conditions for a flood. Some years these are news making events. Most years not.
if one is used to living in a farming community by the sea, where there is a boutique shop that sells Scandinavian Knick knacks featuring slogans like “Uff Da” (sort of like “Oy Vey”) the concept of sea level rise does not seem at all threatening. I buy “Uff Da’ emblazoned mugs or bumperstickers because I love that equivalent of the British “Keep calm and carry on.” We could all use some of that.
As fate would have it, there is now sea level rise which is not the fault of anyone even remotely local. Coal trains come through here, running up the coast after arriving from Montana. Oil comes into the region to terminals for shipping overseas, but the headquarters of these companies are far away.
the COP27 climate talks were so far away, in Egypt, that they might as well have been on another planet. Local newspapers barely mention any such goings on. There is no local radio station or TV station. People get information from a smorgasbord of confusion.
How do people in a local community make sense of a blizzard of bits and pieces of information, some of which are comforting and reassuring in confirming that it is all just more blather from the usual blathering?
Today, a school kid who is 10, will only be 37 in the year 2050. 2100 seems a long way off but that is within a lifetime. That kid will be 87. If he or she stayed in town and bought a home, the mortgage will have matured and the home ready to be sold or inherited by then. Can a home be sold if buyers know that the long anticipated flood will surround it?
The sea level rise flooding that coastal areas will experience won’t be like springtime flooding which drains away in days. It will be permanent. If the climate cooling returns to present day levels, it will likely take hundreds of years.
Humans have a hard time with this conception because our entire civilization goes back only some 8,000 years. The sea
level has mostly been right where it is. Recently, archeologists have discovered an early human occupation in a land about the size of Germany, called doggerland, under the English Channel extending up as far as Scotland.
This land was inundated about 8,000 years ago as the seas rose with the last of the great glaciers melting.
Bits and pieces, artifacts of hunter gatherer and farming activity, come up from the bottom in fishing dredge nets or are found along the British coast by beachcombers.
Are we going to have to deal with a hundred or more feet of sea level rise? The current estimate is that all the world’s ice, locked up in Antarctica and Greenland, amounts to 250 feet of potential sea level if it all melted.
The question is about how much will melt. The answer is about how much the earth’s overall yearly average temperature will rise. That depends on projections being worked on by many scientists. Meanwhile, it also depends on agreements among governments and energy producing companies, such as those attempted at climate summit conferences like the recent COP27 in Egypt.
Dr. James Hansen, who testified about climate change before Congress in 1988 as a NASA scientist, is now projecting that already in the pipeline is about 2.4 degrees of warming by 2050.
I think that is the salient point. This means that the 3 foot or maybe 5 foot sea level rise by 2100 recently projected by the IPCC is likely to turn out to be more like 10 feet, as more ice melts at higher temperatures.
What will stop sea level rise or hold it back? If agreements among world governments can restrain fossil fuel burning and loading greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, that would mitigate the potential. But how much is already on order to arrive over the next 50 years?
This question is being addressed in a cacophony of voices in media reporting and social media arguing. One day you might be an optimist and the next day a depressed pessimist. If you are the mayor of a sea level community, maybe you just want to deal with Main Street boosterism for the short term and zoning for business development. Municipal planning is normally limited to the next election cycle or a little beyond.
The reality is that the global issue is out of the reach of any locality. If indeed the temperature rise comes with more forest fires and summertime heat waves with huge impacts on power grids providing air conditioning to millions, people dying and temperatures in places like Seattle reaching Texas heat levels, the pain level will create a response. Urgency will be felt where it isn’t really now.
We can all hope, as our farmer ancestors hoped, for another good year, while dreading the inevitable year of crop failures and natural disasters. Perhaps we can shake our heads and say, “Uff Da!”
Maybe those dikes will hold for another year,