Editor’s note: Marshall Brain – futurist, inventor, NCSU professor, writer and creator of “How Stuff Works” is a contributor to WRAL TechWire. Brain takes a serious as well as entertaining look at a world of possibilities for Earth and the human race. He’s also author of “The Doomsday Book: The Science Behind Humanity’s Greatest Threats.” Brain has written several posts recently about the threat of climate change. His exclusive columns written for TechWire are published on Fridays.
RALEIGH – The purpose of this article is to give fair warning to corporate leaders, government officials and homeowners located in coastal areas. It is time to begin moving to higher ground. Start today. Right now. We need to begin acting immediately and begin construction on new facilities as quickly as possible.
Why is it so important to avoid delay and start construction today? Because there are so many scientific indicators about the coming collapse of the Thwaites Glacier (AKA the “Doomsday Glacier”). Once this glacier collapses, scientists expect sea levels to eventually rise 10 feet or more in a fairly rapid progression. At that point, everything near the coast will be underwater and destroyed. By taking action today, we can survive the epic flooding that will occur by moving out of harm’s way ahead of time.
Here are five recent articles to help understand the problem with the Thwaites Glacier that is rapidly approaching:
The first article says the collapse could come “as soon as three years from now”. The second article (CBS news) says the collapse could come “within as little as five years.” The third article (Fortune) quoting Robert Larter says, “Thwaites is really holding on today by its fingernails, and we should expect to see big changes over small timescales in the future—even from one year to the next—once the glacier retreats beyond a shallow ridge in its bed.” The message is simple and consistent: catastrophe is right around the corner. This video from PBS News Hour explains how massive the effects will be once the Thwaites Glacier collapses: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aogMKvzN2x4
Looking at the above articles, we know that A) the collapse of the Thwaites Glacier appears to be imminent, and B) the world’s leaders are doing little of any significance to prevent its collapse. The world’s leaders have shown by their inaction that they have no plan to save the Thwaites Glacier. Therefore, via these articles and the scientific data behind them, we are all receiving fair warning. The writing is on the wall. The die has been cast. Any prudent and competent business leader, government official or homeowner must take the necessary steps to move to higher ground now before this glacier collapses and ruins everything near the coast.
Let’s look at Boston to see what we are talking about
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has a brilliant mapping tool that lets us see exactly what will happen once the Thwaites Glacier collapses and sea levels rise by to 10 feet. The tool is located at https://coast.noaa.gov/slr . Here is a screen shot from this tool for Boston:
All of the light blue areas will be flooded by seawater once sea levels rise by 10 feet.
Harvard University is highlighted. Yes, venerable Harvard University, which has been located on this site in Cambridge, MA since 1636, needs to relocate. Lawrence S. Bacow, President of Harvard University, it is time for you to begin construction of your new Harvard 2.0 campus on higher ground. You need to start today. When the Thwaites Glacier collapses, Harvard University will be underwater. You must act today and start building a new campus on higher ground today, or you will lose everything.
Why do you need to act today? Because by the time you factor in site selection, the architects, the permitting process, the financing, etc., and then the actual construction time plus the move in time, it will optimistically take three to five years to build your new campus. About that time, Thwaites Glacier will be collapsing. You will have moved to higher ground just in time if you start the process today.
Also notice that Boston’s Logan airport will be underwater as well. Therefore, it is time for Boston to find a site and start constructing a new airport. Lisa Weiland, CEO of the Massachusetts Port Authority, this is your wake-up call. You should start building Logan airport 2.0 at a new site on much higher ground today. Either that, or we should admit that we will be abandoning all of Boston as a major city after it floods. In that case, no new airport will be needed. The flooding in Boston has already started, as described in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0hQYOSnCP1o
Here are five leading corporations headquartered in Boston, and their CEOs:
- General Electric, H. Lawrence Culp Jr.
- Fidelity Investments, Abigail Johnson
- Liberty Mutual, David H. Long
- Gillette, Gary Coombe
- Massachusetts General Hospital, David F. M. Brown, MD
To H. Lawrence Culp Jr., Abigail Johnson, David H. Long, Gary Coombe, David F. M. Brown, MD and all the other CEOs of Boston-based corporations, this is your moment to shine. By moving out of Boston today rather than waiting for catastrophe to strike, you will be seen as forward-thinking, proactive leaders able to stay ahead of the curve in a changing world. You will also be protecting your shareholders’ interests by anticipating the inevitable floods.
What about Washington DC?
The time to start moving our nation’s capital to higher ground is today. Why? The problem is that a big swath of Washington DC lies very close to sea level, as shown by the green areas on this screen shot:
The White House is in the upper left and the Capital building is in the center. They will not be underwater per se, but the water will be lapping nearby. Several of the most famous and prestigious museums on the National Mall will be submerged. During higher tides and storm surges, pretty much the entire Mall will be under water. Washington National Airport is doomed just like Logan airport is doomed in Boston.
Do we really want our nation’s leadership located in a flood zone? All of these museums definitely need to start moving right now, and then we might as well move the entire seat of government just to be safe. Washington DC 2.0 should move to someplace with a safe elevation. Siting and construction should begin today.
Miami will be completely gone
About six million people live in the greater Miami metropolitan area. Unfortunately, nearly the entire city of Miami will be lost once the Thwaites Glacier collapses:
If you own a home or commercial real estate anywhere near Miami, the time to abandon your property and move to higher ground is now. The writing is already on the wall, as described in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yAKZaQkWSIo
Notice that Miami International Airport is completely underwater. And many corporations call Miami their home including:
- Carnival Cruise Lines, Josh Weinstein
- Royal Caribbean Cruises, Michael Bayley
- Norwegian Cruise Line. Frank J. Del Rio
- Burger King, Jose Cil
- Lennar Corporation, Rick Beckwitt and Jon Jaffe
Like your fellow CEOs in Boston, it is time for these CEOs and many others to start moving their headquarters out of Miami and to higher ground.
NASA’s gigantic launch facility at Cape Canaveral will become completely submerged. Where will that facility move to? It occupies thousands and thousands of acres on the Florida Coast. It’s a perfect spot to launch rockets today, but unfortunately it will be underwater when the Thwaites Glacier lets go. So the time to move it is now.
Many other major cities in Florida like Jacksonville and Tampa will share the same fate as Miami.
And then there is New York City
When we look at New York City with 10 feet of sea level rise in the [Sea Level Rise Tool]( https://coast.noaa.gov/slr), it initially might not look so bad. Especially when compared to Miami. Parts of Central Park, for example, are 100 feet above sea level. But when we look at things in more detail, we start to see screen shots like this:
If the ocean were always a placid lake, it would be one thing. But the ocean is nothing like this. There are king tides, hurricanes, Nor’easters, and other storms. Therefore, the whole Wall Street area will be abandoned. To the New York Stock Exchange and all of the Wall Street firms associated with it: it is time for you to move to higher ground. NYSE CEO Jeff Sprecher, this is your wake-up call. You need to act now to construct a new New York Stock Exchange in a better location. This video describes how bad things will get in New York: https://youtu.be/_zK6Grhp5Zk?t=11
In nearby New Jersey, much of Newark and Newark International Airport are completely underwater. So is LaGuardia. No one will be flying into NYC until these airports are relocated. The famous NYC tunnels like the Holland tunnel, the Lincoln tunnel, the Steinway tunnel, etc., along with many of the subway and train tunnels, are likely to flood. Will New York City and eastern New Jersey survive? Maybe, parts of it. But once things are so badly damaged and so many pieces fall apart (airports, subways, tunnels, power grid, etc.), will anyone want to stay?
Hundreds of corporations will leave the New York City/New Jersey area, because who wants to have their headquarters located in the rotting corpse of a partially flooded city? Prominent iconic corporations in NYC include:
- Bank of America
- Goldman Sachs
- New York Life
- P. Morgan
- The New York Times
The United Nations’ headquarters is located in New York City and positioned right on the water’s edge. It will need to move, but to where?
Can you begin to see the point? Maybe, instead of letting New York City be destroyed in a cataclysmic flood coming from the Thwaites Glacier, the nations of the world should unite together to stabilize the Thwaites Glacier before it collapses and raises global sea levels by 10 feet.
This video shows the kind of thing scientists and engineers would be thinking about if they had billions of dollars to do research and take action: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WcQ4BzHGaS8
Let’s repeat this last point because it is so important: Maybe, instead of letting New York City (and all of the world’s coastal cities) be destroyed in a cataclysmic flood, the nations of the world should unite together to stabilize the Thwaites Glacier before it collapses into the ocean and raises global sea levels by 10 feet. The nations of the world should allocate a trillion dollars and hire a million scientists and engineers to solve the climate change catastrophe that humanity is facing.
The human species is displaying its worst deficiencies and tendencies when it comes to climate change. We are displaying:
- The human tendency to wait until there is a crisis to act. Once the Thwaites Glacier collapses into the ocean, there will be a crisis. But there will be nothing humanity can do because it is irreversible. See this article for details.
- The human tendency toward corruption. All of the fossil fuel corporations are making gigantic amounts of money by selling fossil fuels, even as these fossil fuels are causing the climate change catastrophe. The money is corrupting rational thought processes within these companies and beyond.
- The human tendency to accept bribes. The fossil fuel companies are funneling huge amounts of cash toward politicians so that many politicians look the other way.
- The human tendency to try to listen to both sides, even when one side is delusional. Climate deniers can be very loud (see below), but they are completely wrong. They are as wrong as the people who believe that the world is flat. Climate deniers will scream about climate change being a hoax right up until the day that the Thwaites Glacier starts collapsing.
- The human tendency toward “out of sight, out of mind”. The Thwaites Glacier is a long way away and therefore easy to ignore. The problem is that the Thwaites Glacier will affect every coastal city once it collapses.
- The human tendency to ignore reality and kick the can down the road as long as possible, along with…
- The human tendency to wait until the last minute to do things, AKA procrastination.
- The human tendency toward inertia, resistance to change, and maintaining the status quo, also known as “rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic.”
- The human tendency to be collectively stupid at times. As this article points out: “collective behaviour can also lead to collective stupidity… Usually collective intelligence only makes sense if people have an ability to judge the question and competence to answer it. You also need honest decision-making where people are not trying to bias or manipulate the responses. In addition, you need high diversity amongst people so that errors are not correlated. Given all these factors, you then have the potential for collective intelligence, but there is still no guarantee.”
Consider this: Why hasn’t the United Nations, after issuing dozens of urgent climate change reports, already moved its headquarters out of New York City to a safe elevation? Do they not understand or believe their own reports? It is a great example of the deficiencies described above.
Despite all these natural human tendencies, the time to act is now. Prudent and competent leaders of corporations, government entities and households must begin to take action today to get out of harm’s way and move to higher ground before the Thwaites Glacier collapses.
Either that, or we must immediately get the world’s leaders to act by allocating a trillion dollars to solve all of the many facets of the climate change problem.
If we do neither, then we deserve what happens when the Thwaites Glacier collapses. We all have received fair warning from the scientists, and we ignore this warning at our peril.
Postscript – the importance of listening to scientists
Think about what a trained scientist represents in today’s society. Scientists are our experts. They spend years on education and training and experience in their chosen subject areas. Scientists are not omniscient, but they are the most knowledgeable members of our society in a chosen field.
Scientists are telling us that the collapse of the Thwaites Glacier is imminent unless humanity takes dramatic, significant, highly-funded action right now. Recent data indicates that the Thwaites Glacier will collapse in just a few years. Scientists are simply looking at the data they gather and telling us laymen what the data means.
Standing in opposition to the scientists are the climate deniers, talking about how all the scientists are wrong and that “climate change is a hoax”. A surprising number of our representatives and senators in Congress are known climate deniers:
“According to new analysis from the Center for American Progress, there are still 139 elected officials in the 117th Congress, including 109 representatives and 30 senators, who refuse to acknowledge the scientific evidence of human-caused climate change. All 139 of these climate-denying elected officials have made recent statements casting doubt on the clear, established scientific consensus that the world is warming—and that human activity is to blame. These same 139 climate-denying members have received more than $61 million in lifetime contributions from the coal, oil, and gas industries.”
The most fascinating part of this equation is that the climate deniers are using their smartphones and laptops to broadcast their denials on the Internet. Think about how utterly complex a modern smartphone is. Millions of scientists and engineers have contributed millions of overlapping discoveries, optimizations, and designs to make the modern smartphone or laptop possible. These devices are reliable, affordable, and compact because of the efforts of scientists and engineers. For a climate denier to claim that scientists have no idea what they are talking about, while typing that claim into a laptop that only exists because of the efforts of scientists, is impossibly absurd.
We need to ignore the climate deniers and listen to the scientists. Here is what the scientists are telling us: We could easily be approaching 1.5 degrees C of warming around 2030, because climate change is accelerating. Combine this article:
with this article:
and you can see the problem. We hit 1.5 degrees C in just a few years, and then the tipping points start to trigger, and it is game over.
We need to listen to what the scientists are telling us about the Thwaites Glacier and climate change in general. They know what they are talking about. When they say that the Thwaites Glacier could collapse in a few years without intervention, we should believe them, and we should intervene at a massive scale because so much is at stake. We, the global human species, need to take dramatic, significant, highly-funded action right now to solve the many facets of the climate change problem that scientists have identified.
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aogMKvzN2x4 – Melting of the Thwaites Glacier could rewrite the global coastline
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WcQ4BzHGaS8 – Can we stop ice sheets from melting?
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yAKZaQkWSIo – Sea level rise: Miami and Atlantic city fight to stay above water
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0hQYOSnCP1o – Eye-opening report on rising sea levels ‘a global wake-up call’
- https://youtu.be/_zK6Grhp5Zk?t=11 – How Climate Change Could Drown New York City | Vanity Fair
- https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abn7950 – Exceeding 1.5°C global warming could trigger multiple climate tipping points