The Washington Post

Won't climate change help America?

Ever heard this one: Even if the Earth's climate changes, warmer temperatures will be good for America -- longer growing seasons, perhaps? Or its cousin: Humans will simply do what they've done for millennia -- adapt to changing temperatures with different technology and behaviors? Isn't that better than letting that Al Gore do whatever it is that he wants to do?

Actually, this is a treacherously seductive line of argument, and a report Tuesday on the Chesapeake Bay coastline from Washington's local NPR station, WAMU, shows why. Virginia is experiencing the fastest sea-level rise on the East Coast because of rising ocean levels combined with sinking coastal land. That is, it offers us a glimpse of the sorts of things that might be in store for coastal communities that only have to deal with global-warming-induced sea-level rise.

Residents complain about swamped docks and flooded streets. And Larry Atkinson, a professor at Old Dominion University, says that Northrop Grumman is worried after its dry dock in Newport News flooded last year. If this occurred regularly, it would halt production of aircraft carriers and other naval operations at a site that could otherwise be productive for decades. A 2009 Northrop Grumman report found that "future rise in sea-level is uncertain only in magnitude," imperiling the company's "several multi-billion dollar national assets" on American coasts.

Humans have adapted to life in a pretty narrow and predictable band of temperatures. It's foolish to dismiss the many and often obscure costs of adapting all this infrastructure we have built to different circumstances.

Clearly, we will have to do some adaptation to temperature increases already on the way. And geoengineering -- altering the planet to mitigate the effects of global warming -- could make climate change more tolerable and give us time to green the economy. But the question is how to strike the balance between adaptation and prevention, not whether we should simply throw up our hands and insist that we'll just get along like usual.

Stephen Stromberg is a Post editorial writer. He specializes in domestic policy, including energy, the environment, legal affairs and public health.


Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read


Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
From clubfoot to climbing: Double amputee lives life of adventure
Learn to make traditional soup dumplings
In defense of dads
Play Videos
How to make head cheese
Perks of private flying
The rise and fall of baseball cards
Play Videos
Husband finds love, loss in baseball
New hurdles for a Maryland tradition
How to survive a shark attack
Play Videos
Portland's most important meal of the day
What you need to know about Legionnaires' disease
How to save and spend money at college