Thursday, November 15, 2007
Climate change: Pretty as a picture?
"Washington, DC after sea level rise due to climate change," Photo creation
Venice on the Potomac? Or perhaps a makeover inspired by Tenochtitlan, the 14th & 15th century Aztec capital with its hundreds of canals & floating gardens? No, it's a photoshopper's imagined Washington, DC after global warming has raised sea levels worldwide. Lovely, isn't it? Did the Lincoln Memorial ever gleam so white?
I downloaded this image a while ago, motivated by a vague notion it might be useful at work (full disclosure: my day job is working for an environmental advocacy organization). I remembered it after reading Geoff Manaugh's excellent "Climate Change Escapism" in BLDBLOG. Manaugh's piece is a fascinating take on a series of images by artists Pedro Armestre and Mario Gómez of well-known Spanish locations before & after transformation by climate change. The Armestre-Gomez series will be distributed by Greenpeace as a cautionary glimpse of the horrors we can expect if we don't take drastic action against warming now. But, as Manaugh points out, the images aren't really scary.
Indeed, he suggests that, according to the images, "...Climate change is the adventure tour of a lifetime – and all it requires is that you wait. Then all the flooded hotels of Spain and south Florida will be yours for the taking. Given images like these, the future looks exciting again.
"...What we see is a world transformed, made unearthly, like something from a J.G. Ballard novel. Where there once was a pristine beach, the sea has returned, giving us modern ruins: sandbars in the lobbies of hotels, tide pools accumulating on the boardwalks of towns you didn't like in the first place. What appear to be coral reefs are the underwater remains of marinas. What look like atolls are lost subdivisions, or banks at the bottom of the sea."
"La Manga de Mar Menor in Murcia," Photo by Greenpeace, Photo creation by Armestre & Gomez
Face it, it looks great. Look at the picture that leads off this post & imagine messing around a drowned & deserted Washington in a rowboat. It's a peaceful sunny day, you've got a picnic lunch in the boat, you're clunking up to the vast, scalloped Capitol dome rising out of the water. Down below a huge shimmering shape, a colossal underwater mountain of white marble, fades into the depths. The proud republic of America once made its laws there.
We all love ruins, palaces in the jungle, obelisks in the desert, crumbling fortresses, lost cities, ghost towns -- all that "look upon my works, ye mighty, & despair" stuff. Too bad the effects of global warming won't be like that. Well, maybe they will -- in certain places -- in two or three hundred years.
Here's another picture I downloaded. It's Manhattan, I think, heavily influenced by Kevin Costner's Waterworld.
"Drowned Manhattan," Photo creation
I read somewhere that in England in the spring of 1914 no one was worried about war. It was an exceptionally pleasant, sunny spring & early summer. The nation was drowsy, contented, absorbed in its pleasures. Four years later World War I had torn the world apart. Forty million people from all over the planet were dead or wounded. In England two-and-a-half million young men were dead or wounded, a whole generation traumatizd & nothing would ever be the same again. I wonder if the world -- the U.S. at least -- is not in a similar kind of dreamy, self-absorbed state right now.
Sea level rise is already here of course. The only question is how high will it go. Bangla Desh, for instance, has about 150 million people, mostly poor, packed into the low-lying Ganges delta, facing the Bay of Bengal. What happens if the sea rises 3 feet -- a perfectly reasonable, scientifically moderate estimate -- & most of Bangla Desh is permanently underwater? With 150 million people trying to get themselves & their possessions to high ground (in densely populated neighboring India) no one knows what to expect. But we can ask: Will the water stay an uncluttered, pristine blue like in the pictures? Will the temples rise proudly from the waves? Will muscular Bengali warrior-adventurers adapt & grow gills like Kevin Costner did in the movies?
I don't think so.