To Find the Truth About Climate Change, Follow the Money

A Professor's Perspective on Current Events

Professor Michael Wysession, Ph.D.
By Professor Michael Wysession, Ph.D.

In a recent article in The Washington Post, author Michele Lerner reports that by the year 2100, nearly 2 million homes in the U.S. could be susceptible to flooding due to climate change. Lerner states “Zillow’s new analysis of the potential impact of climate change on homes across the country projects that 1.9 million residences could be literally underwater by 2100 if the oceans rise six feet.”

This article originally premiered on The Washington Post.

We reached out to our own professor Michael Wysession, Associate Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis for his views on the matter. Here is what he had to say.

Within the last five years, several coastal states such as North Carolina and Florida have passed laws preventing their governments from recognizing that sea levels are rising. This was in spite of undeniable evidence from global satellites that ice on Greenland and Antarctica was melting at the rate of 100’s of billions of tons per year and that sea levels were, in fact, rising.

Politicians thought that they could do a better job predicting sea level rise than the brightest scientists at NASA and NOAA, and a lot of people believed them. However, people will always listen to money before politics, and in the case of the recent report by Zillow of almost a $trillion in coastal home losses over the 21st century, people are paying attention.

We’ve seen this before. Exxon lied to its shareholders for decades, saying that global warming wasn’t real, but people started paying attention when Exxon started buying up large leases within the Arctic Sea because they knew that the ice there would soon be gone.

This article is part of our Professor’s Perspective series—a place for experts to share their views and opinions on current events.

Scientists have known for decades that sea level rise was occurring – satellites are able to measure exact heights, moment by moment. While the current rate is still modest, just over 4 mm/year, it is the rate of increase that is disconcerting. Not long ago it was 3 mm/yr, and not long before that, 2 mm/yr. I have to keep changing all the numbers on the slides in my classes.

Even more dangerous is the added risk from large storm surges, or the potential sudden sea level rise from the collapse of large ice sheets in West Antarctica.

History provides an even more sobering warning: the last time there was this much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (over 400 parts per million), sea levels were 75-100 feet higher than today. This is where our sea levels are heading, even if it takes many centuries to get there.

About 40% of Americans now live in counties that are along ocean coastlines. Try to imagine the impact on our economy when New York City, Los Angeles, Houston, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, New Orleans, Miami, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Charlottesville, and our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., all have to be entirely rebuilt, many miles inland.

When someone figures out how to calculate that $$ loss, people will pay attention.

By the way, when all the ice melts, sea levels will rise about 230 ft, which will put the mouth of the Mississippi in southernmost Missouri. But my city of St. Louis will be above water and practically beachfront property. I wonder if Zillow could figure out how much it will be worth then. I would invite you out to join us, but you probably won’t be able to afford it.

For more with Professor Wysession, check out Geological Wonders, The Science of Energy, and Polar Explorations Wondrium!