07/12/2012 12:05 pm ET | Updated Sep 11, 2012

"That's What Your Son Does for a Living"

At the second annual Association of Climate Change Officers (ACCO) meeting on the military and climate change,  John Englander gave a lunch-time talk based on his forthcoming book on sea-level rise: High-Tide on Main Street.

Englander tried to structure his presentation as "non-partisan," stating that his book aimed to reach people who might be 'turned off' by Gore (my term/summary of comments).

Englander stated that there were ways that the film An Inconvenient Truth> creating paths could (or did) mislead people (even as he emphasized that, in looking at the body of his work and speaking, the vice president seeks to remain fidel to honest discussion of the science).  Englander spoke specifically about how the rising sea level around Manhattan and Florida were such a case.

  1. Because the structure of the film suggested that Gore was stating this (9 meter sea level rise) would occur this century (even though, as Englander stated, this is not what the film / the vice president said); and
  2. Sea level rise is a global, inexorable thing driven by global warming that has some tremendous differentiation when examined locally.

Re: Manhattan & Miami, Englander discussed:

  • Manhattan is built on impermeable, granite-type rock and has essentially zero subsidence. And, Englander asserted, it would be possible to build a sea wall to protect Manhattan infrastructure from sea level rise for 50+ years.
  • Miami is built on porous (limestone) and has subsidence. Thus, (a) it is not just sea level rise and (b) a sea wall couldn't protect infrastructure as the water would rise up behind the wall due to the porous stone.

This led Englander to draw in ACCO Executive Director Daniel Kreeger.  Kreeger had spent the previous week in Florida at the first Sea Level Rise Summit and he opened the ACCO conference speaking about that meeting.  Englander, however, did not ask Kreeger to speak about the Summit but to relate a Kreeger-family story related to the conference's subject matter.

Kreeger's story (paraphrased):

In Fall 2010, I was home in Miami and there was several inches of sitting water in my parent's neighborhood on Miami Beach.

I said "Wow, you must have gotten a ton of rain this week."

My mother responded, "Nope, just full moon and high tide."

My parents bought that house in 1972, so I was born and raised there.  I don't remember that happening when I was a kid other than tropical storms and hurricanes. So, I asked: "Mom, was there flooding in the neighborhood when I was a kid from high tide?"

She responded "not that I remember."

I then asked her if she understood why it was happening ... in response to which she shook her head.  So I said, "that's climate change and sea level rise.  That's what your son does for a living."

Here I am, the head of a climate change non-profit, and my own mother How To Boil A Frogwasn't connecting the dots.  Let's be clear, we're not talking about an unintelligent or unaccomplished woman. My mother is a retired judge and is currently one of the State department's delegates on international treaty talks involving abducted children.

John Englander

This is the boiling frog.

When it happens so slowly, people don't notice.