Two-thirds of the globe is covered by ocean. If you live in low-lying Norfolk, Virginia, that fact is easy to believe, because increasingly, parts of your town are beginning to be awash in salt water as well.
The Washington Post has this report (see: "In Norfolk, evidence of climate change is in the streets at high tide," by Lori Montgomery). "On May 6, the Obama administration released the third National Climate Assessment, and President Obama proclaimed climate change no longer a theory; its effects, he said, are already here," writes the Post. "This came as no surprise in Norfolk, where normal tides have risen 1 1/2 feet over the past century and the sea is rising faster than anywhere else on the East Coast."
"Options for dealing with the water are limited, and expensive," the Post writes. Flood walls and levees are one possibility—one that city planning official Ron Williams, Jr., wishes had already been given more thought. Norfolk's recently completed, $318 million, light rail system, for example, could have been elevated on a berm to serve as a dike, he notes; instead, the system itself is likely to flood in a major hurricane storm surge.
From historic churches to U.S. Navy facilities, major investments face an uncertain future as sea levels along this stretch of coastline rise. In addition to being in the Atlantic "hot spot" where sea level rise will likely be greater than the global average, the Norfolk area is also experiencing land subsidence. That means that if other parts of the nation see a 3-foot sea level rise by 2100—considered a mid-range guesstimate—Norfolk could see five or six feet, according to a Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) report last year.
Local leaders have a hard time coming to terms with numbers like that. Writes the Post: "Larry Atkinson, an oceanographer who is co-director of the Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Initiative at Old Dominion University, said when the mayor was asked about the report, he waved away the question. "He says, 'I can't think about five feet. What do you want me to do, move the whole city?'"