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The Rising Seas Summit in Boston

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The Rising Seas Summit in Boston

By Tish Levee

I spent the first few days of November in Boston, at the Rising Seas Summit, with over 300 participants, from governmental agencies, non-profits, sustainability officers at major companies, academics, and environmental consultants, including 26 other journalists. We journalists attended a Workshop on Environmental Journalism, “Planning for Sea Level Rise and Extreme Weather,” put on by The Metcalf Institute of the University of Rhode Island. It broke down the science of climate change for journalists, and then Joe Romm, the chief science advisor for the series, “Years of Living Dangerously,” and the author of the excellent book, Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know—which I highly recommend—talked about “Covering Climate Change,” making it clear that climate change is now an issue that underlies all news beats.

More authors and more books. 

The conference was an intense three days, loaded with information. I made some excellent contacts that I can follow up with for future stories. Two other authors whom I was privileged to hear were the keynoter, Michael Mann, and John Englander. I’ve been following Michael E. Mann, Ph.D., a Distinguished Professor of Meteorology at Penn State University, for some time, so it was exciting to hear him and to get a copy of his newest book, Dire Predictions: Understanding Climate Change. I also recommend highly John Englander’s, High Tide on Main Street: Rising Sea Level and Coming Coastal Crisis.

Probably the most intensive and interesting workshop I attended was the one John led with Robert E. Corell, at which they launched the International Sea Level Institute (http://www.sealevelinstitute.info/). It was exciting to be in on the ground floor of this new organization and to be among the first to see their website. Later I spent a enlightening hour over a beer with Robert, whose most impressive resume includes, like Michael Mann’s, being among the scientists honored with the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for their work with the IPCC assessments.

Boston was unseasonably warm, and people kept marveling over the weather and saying what a beautiful day it was. I loved that I didn’t have to add, “…but we need the rain!” While Boston is beautiful, with distinctive architecture and autumn colors, I’m glad I don’t live there. It’s very flat, and SLR (sea level rise) is going to inundate a whole lot of the town (not to mention the underground “T.”)

Rising Seas here at home.

Seeing the computer modeled maps for SLR was pretty awesome, especially for areas along the Atlantic Coast, but sea level rise and storm surge is happening right here at home. Go to http://tinyurl.com/o8zwutc for a zip code map of SLR. While this url takes you to Sonoma, you can input any zip code you want.

These kind of models show what will happen IF we extremely limit greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) or IF we continue “business as usual.” You will note that, even if we limit emissions, we’ll have higher sea levels. That’s because the process is well under way, and even if we stopped all emissions tomorrow, it would be many years before it would make a difference. This is because SLR is caused by both Arctic glaciers melting and adding more water to the ocean AND the heating of the ocean water itself. Warmer water expands and takes up more room, so even without melting glaciers we would have SLR.

Indigenous people are at risk, too.

Unlike the conference I attended last May in St. Louis, there was little presence of indigenous people. I did meet one man from a coastal tribe in Washington state. But the only other “tribal” person I met was Queen Quet, the chieftess  and head of state for the Gullah/Geechee Nation, a group of black people living in the Sea Islands and the Carolina Low Country. Meeting Queen Quet and learning a bit about this fascinating culture, which is at extreme risk from SLR, was special. Learn more about them at http://gullahgeechee.net/.

Traveling with a lower carbon footprint.

I flew non-stop both ways, something I hadn’t done before. It cost me a bit more, but ecologically it was a much smarter move. Flying non-stop can cut up to 50% of the carbon from a plane trip, because the greatest amount of emissions are produced in take-off and landings. I’ll purchase carbon offsets for the rest of my emissions.

More from Mitzvah Moments.

Look for my column elsewhere in The Gazette, and check out my new website,
www.mitzvahmoments.com. There’s not a lot there, yet, but I will be adding more soon. I have eight years worth of material, much of which has never been in print to share on the website.