Rising seas to reshape our coast


There’s a global battle going on about how we see ourselves, how interact with each other, and how we live our lives. An optimist might call it a realigning. As someone who falls into the optimist camp, I like the second option.

But if you read the news, it seems pessimists have all the firepower.

Consider Egypt. After winning a major victory last year in the ouster of now-former president Hosni Mubarak —  all but a dictator — the country suffered a setback as their high court disbanded the new democratically elected parliament and re-instituted military rule. Much of the efforts of protesters who died and suffered, erased with a stroke of the pen.

Or, consider our environment. For the most part, the human race treats the planet like crap, and the earth is beginning to show symptoms of that abuse.

One of the most worrisome symptoms is the rise in sea level caused by the melting of polar ice. This should have the rapt attention of most Californians. Much of the California coastline is subsiding due to geographical forces, meaning it’s in even greater danger than the rest of the country to go submarine in the not-so-distant future.

According to a study released by the National Academy of Sciences, areas like parts of Marin County could have less than 100 years before they’re underwater. With an estimated sea level rise of 1 foot in the next 20 years, 2 feet by 2050, and as much as 5 feet by 2100, Bay-hugging areas like both San Francisco and Oakland’s airport could find themselves threatened.

And guess what? With advancements in anti-aging science, many of us might actually be around to see the whole coast go under.

If the world suffered the catastrophic loss of massive ice shelves like Greenland, sea rises in the 20-25 foot range would be, to say the least, a game-changer.

Creative cartographers at Urban Life Signs and Burrito Justice have produced sea-level rise maps of San Francisco in both 25-foot and 200-foot varieties.

The 200-foot rise map, entitled “San Francisco Archipelago,” showcases BJ’s wry yet meticulous sense of San Francisco humor. Only a harbor and a craggy handful of islands lie East of the “Bay of Castro.”

The 25-foot map, though, is frighteningly reminiscent of maps of San Francisco from the 1850s and 1860s, with much of the Financial District submerged, and bayside property extending well into the Mission.

The Bay has already risen 7 inches in the last 100 years. And coastal areas have already seen foreboding signals of the future, like the seven houses in Pacifica that fell into the sea. Last year, the Bay Area Conservation and Development Commission signaled the seriousness of the situation by requiring developers to begin taking sea level rise into account as they plan projects on the shoreline.

But that’s all so pessimistic.  The truth is, most predictions are based on projections of what the world will look like if things continue exactly as they are now. We all know how quickly things can change, making obsolete a long-established way of thinking.

That’s not just optimism — it’s rational. Of course, if that doesn’t happen — or if things turn out to be even worse than projected — we’ll have to hope engineers come up with better ways to hold back the sea, or just get used to going to work in a paddle boat.

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