In public seminars this month, the Vineyard Conservation Society, using colorful and frightful maps, showed how we were on our way to becoming the next Atlantis.
My wife and I just bought here and now they’re telling me “here” may not be here for long? Here I was enjoying my status as a washashore and now they have the audacity to inform me that life’s odyssey is destined to make me an out-at-sea? Why worry about securing my next appointment with the electrician or the plumber if my future is among flotsam and jetsam? Well, if not mine, then my grandchildren, if I had any. What’s the cause for alarm? The VCS calls it their Rising Seas Awareness Project, a noninflammatory term for their stark projection that over the course of the next half century our water level will rise one whole metre. The prepared maps illustrate just how much damage the Island will suffer. In short, no part will be immune to the impact. This horror show and tell was kicked off on May 9 at a meeting of the All-Island Selectmen’s Association. The message was simple: we’re going under, folks. By the time the VCS finished its presentation, you could hear an anchor drop.
The sea has risen nearly a foot in the last 100 years in the northeast, based on actual measurements. But we are now in for a change, accelerating at three times the going rate over the next 50 years. Add to that yet another meter after the turn of the next century.
What would be in jeopardy? Near where we live, the beach and ferry landing at Vineyard Haven would be no more. The water could come halfway up to Main street. Goodbye, Five Corners and eventually Veterans Park, which used to be part of the harbor, where people rowed boats, and then it was filled in so they could play soccer and baseball. The next sport there could be water polo.
Goodbye, Beach Road and Lagoon Pond beach. Goodbye, Seaview avenue, Farm Pond, Waban Park, Edgartown coastline, Chappy ferry terminal, the flats of Katama, Great Ponds of West Tisbury and Chilmark, Menemsha bulkhead, West Basin to Lobsterville. And the hospital could be surrounded by a moat.
Many homes and shops will go. Infrastructure will be compromised. Forecasts also call for more ocean storms. Flooding will become a way of life. Erosion will continue to eat away the coastline and our budgets. You can already see ravages at Lucy Vincent and Squibnocket.
We were once comforted by the phrase, a rising tide lifts all boats. Well, to quote Chief Brody in Jaws, we’re going to need a bigger boat. Maybe even an ark — for each town.
While the cynics among us wonder whether this is all an underhanded marketing scheme to sell us small craft or flood insurance, others may start looking inland for their next habitat. But how far inland can you go in this country before you hit tornado alleys?
There are also folks who think that fact is just a four-letter word. They equate scientists with economists, alleged experts who are sometimes right, sometimes wrong.
Remember Chicken Little who thought the sky was falling? Could this be Fishy Wishy crying that the sea is rising? Do you want to risk it? Do you want to be one of those anti-science naysayers?
I can hear someone saying the jury is still out on climate change.
Yet some folks think you can keep messing with Mother Nature — pollute her neighborhood and poke holes in her ozone — and never incur her wrath. I used to say such people also think denial is a river in Egypt, but now I feel what they really believe is Egypt is an early, disreputable version of eBay.
If the sea rises a metre, what will happen to us as human beings? Aren’t we mainly water? Years ago I did a report on how emergency rooms fill up on nights of the full moon. Most physicians agreed: the moon’s gravitational pull affects all waters — those around us and those inside us. Show me a full moon and I’ll show you a lunatic. Who knows, if this keeps up, we could turn back into apes.
But the jury is still out on evolution.
But wait! The warnings and maps come from VCS but the actual forecasts are the work of a United Nations climate committee. I can already hear someone exclaiming: It’s from the UN! No wonder it’s a worst-case scenario!
Or we can stay calm and look for pragmatic remedies. We can assemble task forces of experts to study plans to shore up our shores and provide cost analyses. We could cooperate and discuss all the ways to improve our coastline and vote on how best to protect and reinforce it.
But the jury is still out on democracy.
Then again we could just let Mother Nature take its course, thanks to human interference. After all, how did the Vineyard get here anyway? Some say we were once part of Ireland, broke off and floated like a drumlin to our present location. Soon we will be smaller or may even float somewhere else, like off the coast of Florida. C’est la vie.
But the jury is still out and may not be back until they find a boat.
Arnie Reisman and his wife, Paula Lyons, regularly appear on the weekly NPR comedy quiz show, Says You! He also writes for the Huffington Post.