Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lomborg misunderstands city subsidence and sea level rise

Maybe I should ignore this Bjorn Lomborg Op-Ed like everyone else has, but one part got a rise out of me. He compares subsidence that's happened in certain cities due to groundwater depletion to the long-term, multi-century sea level rise of 15 feet (actually it could be more than that), and says that we've handled "large relative sea-level rises without much difficulty." In other words, adaptation is no big deal.

I don't know the cities he's talking about, but I do know about subsidence in San Jose along San Francisco Bay. Contrary to Lomborg's statement, it's a big deal and a serious problem, especially when combined with other potential flooding problems that usually exist because cities are normally located near rivers.

The other point Lomborg misses is that city subsidence is geographically limited. The only area that needs to be protected from relative sea level rise is a small stretch of shoreline. And cities are the most economically valuable land on the planet, so the cost of protecting them relative to their value constitutes the best possible scenario.

Sea level rise, even minor sea level rise, is a much bigger deal. Here in Santa Clara County, we're going to have to deal with it, and it's already costing taxpayers money. Flood projects for near-sea-level creeks are right now being designed to handle sea level rise, which is the only intelligent way to construct these long-term structures. Adaptation is already here, it's a significant problem, and the question is who should pay for the costs. Seems like greenhouse gas emissions would be a good place to look for a tax to pay for greenhouse gas costs.


  1. The recent article in the NY Times about flooding in Norfolk VA bears on this too. BTW, John Fleck is opining on the Delta Project, while not quite in your neck of the woods, you probably know more about it than him, and might go over there and have a look

    Eli- Trouble made while you wait.

  2. Thanks Eli, I went there and left a comment, and probably should check him out more.


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