Life plus 2,000 meters

Mark Newcomb writes: 

I’m a county commissioner for Teton County, Wyoming, which is a gateway to Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone (97% of our land is federally managed), destination for the rich and famous and 4 million more people per year (here’s our local magazine). I was born and raised here. I’m passionate about our community, but I’m concerned about its trajectory.

Life Plus 2 m for those of us living 2,000 m above sea level has a much different set of implications. (I co-authored this report on local climate change impacts.)

One implication is that soon, apparently, our elevation will be 1,998 meters 🙂

Another is that the snowpack above 2,500 m that now reaches depths of 3+ meters and stores an entire reservoir (or two) of water is now coming down out of the mountains sooner and sometimes more rapidly than when water rights were established. Early, fast melt has implications for irrigated agriculture in the valleys, aquifers that drain into bigger rivers and streams (such as the Snake River), and water allocation.

Early summer runoff used to flood irrigate alfalfa fields at about the right time to get the crops off to a good start, and much of the water was utilized. Earlier runoff has reduced use by upstream farmers and helped downstream big ag expand. Upstream farmers are becoming less productive so they are more inclined to subdivide into sprawling, dispersed development that ultimately harms communities that want to preserve their character, open spaces and wildlife.

As a policy maker, I’m constantly pondering good policy in the face of these challenges we face. (Here’s an interesting example of how the right efforts in the right context can bring about good results.)

Please get in touch if you have ideas. I’ll reward you with a few stories from the “good ol’ days.”

How bad is the warming world going to get?

From the always-direct Straight Dope:

Sea levels just two meters higher will displace 2.5 million people from Miami, 1.8 million from Mumbai, more than a million each in New York and New Orleans, etc. We’re already exacerbating this problem — i.e., in ways beyond our economic addiction to fossil fuels. More people are moving to coastal cities, leading to construction on land previously left undeveloped precisely because of flood risk. In some places, increased population can overtax the groundwater, causing cities to subside — literally sink as water is pumped from below. Sunny seaside Jakarta, with a metro area now home to 30 million, is expected to drop six feet by 2025 — an inopportune development, one might say, what with oceans on their way up.

Life plus 20 meters!

Deltares — the Dutch semi-governmental thinktank charged with researching flood safety (and other topics) — had a “hackathon” around the topic of adapting to a 20-meter increase in sea levels. (They say by the year 2500, but that time scale may be too conservative.)

In their report on the hackathon [in Dutch], they give three different scenarios for the Dutch “Randstad” (the area where I live that includes Amsterdam, Den Haag, Rotterdam, etc.)

The top left has a “beautiful wall” to keep the sea from flooding below sea-level ground and top right has “beautiful walls” to keep the sea and rivers out of lower ground. On the bottom, you see cities above the sea (on  deeper bases), which is the vision I think most likely.

H/T to LJ

Forced moves will cost money

With the US population highly concentrated in dense coastal areas, this raises urgent questions for the government. Where would you move everyone? How do you move entire towns and cities? Who will pay for it? And, perhaps most contentiously, who do you help first?

Towns [face] an awful choice that is going to come to many who live in coastal areas across the US that are at risk of being inundated as the sea level continues to rise: Move or perish. But then they heard of an unusual, first-of-its-kind competition held by the Obama administration, which offered the chance for relocation. The National Disaster Resilience Competition (NDRC) was organized by the federal government and aimed to help communities and states recover from previous disasters and reduce future risks.

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