Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Global ... 'Weirding'?

It seems, lately, every time we cross the saltmarsh, it's high tide. It must be high tide, because the marsh channels are tidal, and the water level rises and falls with the tides, but it seems like every time I'm going across the marsh, lately, the channels are full and the water is all but lapping against the road.

I've been looking at it a lot lately asking my fellow travelers: is the marsh more full? Have sea levels been rising? Or am I just hypersensitive to the issue because of my involvement with the whole doomer crowd (with carbon footprint and global climate change being one of the banners the crowd is waving)?

I asked Deus Ex Machina those questions the other day as we were crossing, and I was looking at how close the water was to the road. I remarked that if the sea levels rose by just a foot - a mere twelve inches - during spring tides (twice a month) and storm surges, the road on which we were traveling would be closed due to flooding. Another foot rise (just twenty-four inches), and we'd be cut-off twice a day, every day, during high tide.

There's a scene in the movie I am Legend in which the character played by Will Smith checks the sunrise and sunset times to be sure that he's not out after dark. That would be us, checking the tidal charts every day before we left the house to be sure that we could get back home.

In 2007 the coast of Maine was hit by a massive Nor'easter which was dubbed The Patriot's Day storm. It caused significant damage along the coast including huge waves that dragged cars and houses into the surf. High tide was higher than normal, and all of the roads heading north from where I live were closed due to water. All of them. Can you imagine? The flooded roads only lasted a few hours, and as the tide went out, so did most of the water, but during that time we were pretty much stuck on whatever side of the Scarborough salt marsh that we happened to be on. Deus Ex Machina was at work ... on one side of the marsh. We were at home ... on the other side.

Some people fared worse than others. Much of southern Maine is made up of marshy areas, and many of these marshes have been developed. Dirt fill is brought in to bring the level of the solid ground above what would be the natural water level and then roads and buildings with parking lots (all impermeable surfaces) are built. The marshes act like a natural sponge to absorb the water, and so, while the marsh area will be wet and mucky, there are often higher areas that will remain dry - even in the worst storms and/or wettest years. With these natural sponges covered up and built upon, the water has no where to go, and we fight a losing battle against the very forces we thought to control.

The consequences are sometimes humorous ... from a bystander's point-of-view, but I'll bet a Hubbard squash that this guy wasn't laughing.

Yes, that is, indeed, a road under all that water, and that last car didn't make it quite all the way through as the water flooded across the road.

There's been a very interesting discussion happening on the Portland Permaculture Meet-up group regarding Global Warming, and I've seen a couple of articles about glacial melt and sea levels rising. People who aren't personally affected by either of these things will declare that global warming is a farce perpetrated on us by the world's governments in an attempt at fear-mongering and resource control. Denial is a very powerful emotion. During last year's winter storms that dumped feet of snow on areas of the country where they usually get only inches, the naysayers often quipped, "How's this global warming?"

But whether we call it "climate change" or "global warming" or "global weirding" (as some have suggested) it's very clear that *something* most definitely is happening.

There are a lot of anecdotal accounts of the changes in the weather - with both the hottest year on record and the wettest year on record having occurred in the last decade. We're still having an unseasonably warm year (although 1998 here in Maine was pretty warm, too, as I recall). In fact, I'm still cutting kale from the garden, and I *just* planted my spring crop of garlic last week.

At this point, whether it's human caused or a some natural warming/cooling cycle of the Earth is really moot. At this point, we can't stop what's happening. It's happening. The glaciers in Siberia are melting and leaving methane seeping lakes in their wake (which, by all accounts, will only exacerbate the climate changes). The ocean levels are rising and are drowning whole nations.

Continuing to point fingers and blame this one or that one is no longer a useful or productive exercise. Neither is having conference after conference with all of the verbal wrangling and no action. If our leaders won't do anything, we must, because as a species, *we* are at risk, and we can't count on any political entity to "save" us.

All we can do, now, is to get ready to learn to live with the consequences, which means, maybe, we have to check the tidal charts every day before we travel anywhere to be sure that we can get back home if the roads end up flooded. It means that we may not have access to things we've always had, because getting them to us will be too difficult, and we'll need to find substitutes or just learn to do without. It means that, maybe, people from the coast start moving inland, and those who live inland need to figure out where those coasties will live.

It defintely means we need to stop building along the coasts, we need to stop filling in our natural sponges, and perhaps we need to start deconstructing those condos that were built on marshy areas and let nature return the balance.


  1. Ugh, if I hear "There's no such thing as global warming - it's snowing here!" one more time....~growls~

    It angers me that so many people think that global warming (or "global weirding" which almost seems more appropriate) is a farce because some areas still get snow and frozen temps every winter. But they don't care about researching the situation - they just parrot what news anchors say on their favorite news programs. It seems a shame that we have so many ignorant people in this world during a time when information and knowledge is easier than ever to access.

  2. When I first moved to Planet Georgia, it would get below zero (°F) here about every other year. But it hasn’t done that in over a decade now. I came from Michigan, and winters there are noticeably milder than they were when I was a kid.

    But it snowed in Canada last winter so global warming is a hoax. Right.

  3. Here in the UK we were having an unusually warm autumn...and then 80% of the country got unusually large amounts of snow unusually early in December (Scotland and N England has all but ground to a halt, several areas have closed motorways due to stranded motorists; people have been cars for up to 20 hours) and the whole of the country has temperatures well below freezing at a time of year when chilly dampness is more usual. But hey! That doesn't prove anything! It's just a meteorological blip!
    And the fact that most people seem to operate a 'just in time' policy to their larders along with the supermarkets applying their 'just in time' policy to the shops doesn't seem to bother anybody else. Nope. The fact that most people can't keep themselves in bread and milk for a day or two longer than they'd expected isn't an issue. The bigger concern is, of course, that their online Christmas shopping might be delayed. Seriously! As DD1 would say.

    I was having a similar discussion last week with my neighbour. She was explaining how she felt vindicated in her choice of vehicle when the weather was bad. We live on the edge of the commuter belts for London and Birmingham, so hardly the back of beyond. However, our village is small and in a valley, so there are steep minor roads to get out in each direction, and a small river that floods the road in the direction of the nearest town at least once a year. She has a huge 4x4 which means "she can always get out to a shop." I tried to explain that we wouldn't need to 'get out'. I have supplies, wood (and a wood burning cookstove from next month!!), knowledge and equipment that means we don't have to run an enormous petrol-drinking car the rest of the year to enable us to survive the couple of days a year that it's really tricky to leave the village. And what if the local shops can't get a delivery? Your vehicle doesn't help then.
    We all have cold weather gear, so we could always walk, say, to my parents 2 villages away.
    I don't think she got it.

  4. PatriciaLynn - Yes, very sad that with the ease of gleaning information that so many people are so willing to remain in the dark.

    FARf - *grin* Reminds me of the joke about the little old lady who lived on the border of Maine and Canada and was relieved when she learned that her property was in Maine, because she heard those Canadian winters were brutal :)

    Hazel - I don't think she got it, either. Our lifestyles are such that we have the luxury of not thinking about such things, because even when there's a "meteorological blip", it's so short-lived that by next week, it's no longer news, and we're on to the next hot topic du jour. We have such short memories. Last year, in Kentucky, there was a snowstorm like you describe having there in the UK right now, and people lost power and were stranded for days. I wonder how many of them are prepared for bad weather this year. My guess is, not many.

  5. first heard of "global weirding" from Thomas Friedman, and it's my favorite counter to all the it's-so-cold folks. look forward to reading more of your site!

  6. Global weirding could cover the cultural and political craziness, too. Its an engaging term, but the advantage to "climate change" is it leads nicely into "weather isn't climate" (as in "weather isn't climate, you moron!")