By Philip Favero
Originally Published May 17, 2016
The opinions expressed in this blog entry are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Climate Stewards of Greater Annapolis.
The recent public charrette, “Weather it Together: Annapolis Plans for Rising Waters,” stems from a consensus among climate scientists that: (1) as the result of thermal expansion and melting of sheet ice and glaciers, the Earth’s average sea level has risen by more than six inches during the last century; (2) because, since the last ice age, land in the mid-Atlantic region has been subsiding, the problem of rising sea levels is compounded where we live; (3) a rising pace of thermal expansion and ice melting, plus continued subsidence, will result in an additional sea-level rise of three feet, or more, in Annapolis by the end of the 21st Century; and (4) as a result, nuisance flooding in the downtown area is projected to increase from dozens of floods, per year, in 2016 to hundreds, per year, by 2050.
We who live away from downtown Annapolis should not feel unaffected by the problem. The vulnerability of the downtown area means that the regional economic engine of the historic area and the Naval Academy are at risk. Moreover, sea-level rise causes not just nuisance flooding but also increased risks for destructive storm surge flooding, such as Hurricane Isabel, which hit Annapolis in 2003, and Superstorm Sandy, which landed just to our north in 2012.
Increased sea-level rise is one of many impacts resulting from the warming of the Earth. Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that global warming is real, caused by humans, and increasingly dangerous. Since the 1700s – primarily as the result of burning coal, oil, and natural gas – humans have been adding carbon dioxide (CO2) to the Earth’s atmosphere. Since the mid-19th century, scientists have known that CO2 is a “greenhouse gas” that traps the sun’s heat in our atmosphere and onto our planet’s surface. Humans have now added more than 120 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 to the atmosphere, a 40 percent increase over the past 250 years. The stock of atmospheric CO2 is now greater than 400 ppm, higher than at any time in the last 800,000 years and growing at a rate of more than 2 ppm, per year. Atmospheric CO2 is heating the Earth, raising sea level, and being absorbed by the oceans.
Adding CO2 to ocean and bay waters creates carbonic acid, which reduces the ability of oysters and other sea life to create shells. In a recent article in The Capital, three students at South River High School – Ben Znaniec, Jack Donnelly, and Robert Rider – collaborating with researchers at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, reported on their investigation of the threat of acidification to oysters in the Chesapeake Bay. Their research confirms investigations elsewhere, demonstrating that acidification is contributing to a global mass extinction of marine species.
Annapolitans have an opportunity to take the lead in demonstrating exemplary behavior, not only in how to effectively adapt to sea-level rise and ocean acidification, but also in how a small city can help to mitigate the problem of global warming. Annapolis’ contribution to reducing global warming is limited by our size, but we can set an example for others and push, from the bottom up, for progress in stopping and reversing global warming at the local, state, national, and international levels.
The Climate Stewards of Greater Annapolis (CSGA), a local group with a mission of climate-change advocacy and education, is sponsoring a speakers’ series to consider the science of global warming. Our next speaker, Dr. Sara Via, Professor of biology and entomology at the University of Maryland, will speak about Life in the Underground: Healthy Soil; Healthy Plants; Healthy Planet on Thursday, May 19, at 7:00 P.M. at the Annapolis Friends Meeting House, 351 Dubois Road, Annapolis 21401. We invite you to participate.
* Philip Favero serves at the coordinator of CSGA. He can be reached at philip.favero (at) gmail.com.