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This is the letter for week 190 of a weekly climate strike that went on for 4 years in front of San Francisco City Hall, beginning early March 2019. For more context, see this story. For an annotated table of contents of the topics for all the strike letters, see this story. Meanwhile…
STRIKE FOR THE PLANET
It’s not called the Doomsday Glacier for nothing
This week: THWAITES
Thwaites is a glacier in Antarctica
It is known as one half of the weak underbelly of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. It is east of Mount Murphy and flows into Pine Island Bay on the Amundsen Sea. It holds the rest of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet glaciers on land, like the cork in a bottle.
Thwaites is also the name of an ice shelf
This ice shelf was grounded against an underwater ridge in the Amundsen Sea, pushing against the Thwaites Glacier, holding it on land.
And there was an iceberg named B22a that calved off this ice shelf
It calved off Thwaites in 2001 and got stuck in front of the ice shelf, preventing calving into the open ocean, also operating like a cork in a bottle.
Let’s talk sizes here.
We’ve got 2 corks. The glacier is the size of Great Britain. The iceberg was 53 miles long and 40 miles wide. The iceberg became unstuck in September. It is now disintegrating and moving out to sea.
One cork gone
Suddenly the rapidly warming Amundsen Sea water can attack the ice shelf that’s holding the glacier on land. AND it’s summer in the Southern Hemisphere starting today.
The ice shelf will be gone in 5 years, tops, maybe in as few as 2 according to glaciologists who have been studying this ice for decades. It is the last thing bracing the glacier from total collapse. The glacier, by itself, contains about 65 cm in sea level rise. But it is the cork for a bunch of other glaciers on the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet that hold a lot more water.
San Francisco is surrounded by water on 3 sides
Just sea level rise alone will destroy SF. Treasure Island’s elevation is below 10 feet.1 The east side of the city, including the freeways and the train tracks, are on low land. Downtown is low land. And when you add in storm surges and increased storm intensity and size due to increased heat in the atmosphere and water, much more of the city is clearly in peril.
SF won’t survive, as is, even the smallest land loss
The fuel for our city’s economy is all carbon-based: tourism, tech, driving cars around all over the place to pick people up or deliver groceries… SF might as well be an oil company. Now suddenly add lots of water. Flood downtown, wipe out the Marina, take out Treasure Island, sink Dogpatch, submerge Mission Bay…. Unlike the Thwaites Shelf, it won’t take 5 years for SF’s economy to crash.
So are you going to save SF or drown us?
You can act, you just have to choose to.2 You’ve taken oaths to act for the good of SF. You say you are bound by the Precautionary Principle. The costs of climate change are huge3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and your not acting will destroy SF. So what’s stopping you? I expect an answer to that question.
1. Treasure Island topographic map. World Topographic Map. Accessed 20 December 2022. https://en-us.topographic-map.com/map-w6gqnx/Treasure-Island/?center=37.82477,-122.36173&zoom=15.
2. Richard Procter. “San Francisco Knows How to Stop Global Warming — Will It?” SF Weekly. 11 September 2019. https://www.sfweekly.com/news/san-francisco-climate-change-emissions/.
3. Harper’s Index. March 2021. https://harpers.org/archive/2021/03/.
4. Harper’s Index. March 2021. https://harpers.org/archive/2021/03/.
5. Dana Nuccitelli. “New report finds costs of climate change impacts often underestimated”. Yale Climate Connections. 18 November 2019. https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2019/11/new-report-finds-costs-of-climate-change-impacts-often-underestimated/.
6. Rebecca Hersher and Nathan Rott. “What Are The Costs Of Climate Change?” NPR. 16 September 2020. https://www.npr.org/2020/09/16/913693655/what-are-the-costs-of-climate-change.
7. Samantha Fields. “Insurance increasingly unaffordable as climate change brings more disasters”. Marketplace. 31 August 2020. https://www.marketplace.org/2020/08/31/insurance-increasingly-unaffordable-as-climate-change-brings-more-disasters/.