Dis­patches from the New Amer­i­can Shore

Foreword Reviews - - Foresight -

El­iz­a­beth Rush, Milkweed Edi­tions (JUNE) Hard­cover $26 (320pp), 978-1-57131-367-6

Ob­sessed with the rate of sea-level rise, en­vi­ron­men­tal writer El­iz­a­beth Rush trav­eled ex­ten­sively along the US coasts and as far afield as Bangladesh, in­ter­view­ing con­cerned sci­en­tists and coastal dwellers di­rectly af­fected by dev­as­tat­ing floods and cat­a­strophic storms.

Her con­clu­sion: the fu­ture we feared is already here. In the time it has taken to write this book, the sea level’s pre­dicted end-of-cen­tury rise has dou­bled. “If sea level rise con­tin­ues to ac­cel­er­ate at even half this speed we are look­ing at a rise of well over ten feet in the next eighty years,” she writes.

Sci­en­tists have found that Earth’s cli­mate doesn’t change slowly and steadily. In­stead, the tran­si­tion from ice age to green­house con­di­tions and back again is of­ten rapid and dra­matic. It has hap­pened be­fore, but this is the first time that hu­mans will be here to see it. And it won’t be pretty.

The pre­dic­tion is that by 2050 there will be two hun­dred mil­lion refugees world­wide due to cli­mate change that has been ex­ac­er­bated by hu­man in­ter­ven­tion in the land­scape. Of these, two mil­lion will be from the state of Louisiana, whose south­ern edge is erod­ing at a rate that’s among the fastest on the planet.

Rush ex­plains the role of thriv­ing wet­lands and tidal marshes in se­cur­ing coastal land and in pro­vid­ing habi­tat for threat­ened or en­dan­gered species, and how short-sighted laws have al­lowed fill­ing and hard­scap­ing them for eco­nomic gain. In re­sponse, coastal an­i­mals and in­sects are re­lo­cat­ing, and even plants are mov­ing in­land, slowly stretch­ing their rhi­zomes away from the sea.

What Rush lays be­fore us in her book is ex­tremely dis­turb­ing: that our only hope ap­pears to be re­treat—evac­u­a­tion of the coasts and re­lo­ca­tion of the things we value—and that we must take rad­i­cal, even un­think­able, ac­tion at once.

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