Review: The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World, by Jeff Goodell

Posted: March 4, 2018 in Book Reviews, Journalism, Politics
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The Water Will Come front cover(The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World, by Jeff Goodell. Little Brown, 2018, 340 pp., $28.00)

 

It’s easy, even if you accept the science, to think of global warming as an abstraction, because, as regards the human perception of time, it’s a long term trend. That’s true even in many places which are already being affected, such as Southern Arizona, which is projected to suffer the highest temperature increases of anywhere in the lower 48.

We’re already experiencing drastic warming. Last year was the warmest ever here, we had our hottest June ever, with three days at 115F or above (46C), and we had almost no winter (well, what passes for winter down here: It’s below 70? Break out the parkas!).

The change in the weather is already affecting vegetable and fruit tree planting seasons here: What I and other gardeners used to plant in October, we now tend to put off until November (hottest ever last year). Or December. (It was so warm this winter that I’ve put off buying and planting a peach tree until this fall, hoping for cooler weather then.)

So, I’m already affected by long-term temperature increases, if only as a minor annoyance. But most people here don’t garden, are caught up in daily life, and find it easy enough to ignore gradually warming temperatures — at least until the next 116 or 117F day, which they’ll promptly forget once it cools down even slightly.

But it’s not so easy to ignore global warming in other places, specifically low-lying coastal areas and islands.

Hence the value of Jeff Goodell’s latest book, The Water Will Come. It serves as a timely reminder to those of us who live inland, those who are climate-change deniers, and those with head-in-the-sand attitudes living in low-lying coastal areas, that climate change (with a focus on ocean warming and sea level rise) is all too real, is already having drastic, destructive effects in some areas, and that the destructive effects will get worse, especially if we don’t do anything to mitigate them, while we still can.

Goodell, in plain, “just the facts, ma’am” prose, explores what’s already happening in places as diverse as Alaska (Inuit villages falling into the rising sea), Miami (ever-worse flooding), and the very low-lying Marshall Islands (which will disappear). Goodell does this through not only presenting the scientific facts, and through descriptive passages, but also through interviews with many local people who provide graphic illustrations of the effects of sea level rise on daily life.

While that’s valuable, I wish Goodell would have spent more time on mitigation efforts and ways of reducing CO2 emissions in the short term. But that’s not the point of The Water Will Come — those are topics for other books. Goodell’s point is that we have a real problem, and we need to start addressing it now.

If there’s one real fault with The Water Will Come, it’s that Goodell gives the Obama Administration, and Barack Obama himself, a complete pass in regard to dealing with climate change (and everything else). There are several passages in the book dealing with Goodell’s interviews with Obama Administration officials, and one with Obama himself, and the tone in those passages borders on worshipful.

Given how awful Donald Trump is, there’s a tendency on the part of liberals to venerate Obama while ignoring the fact that he was a lousy president who betrayed those who voted for him.

When he had real power, with big majorities in both houses of Congress during his first two years, what did Obama do? He produced a grossly inadequate stimulus package that was just large enough to save the big banks, but not the millions upon millions who’d lost their jobs and homes — for them, he did next to nothing; he pushed through a grossly inadequate healthcare measure (Michael Moore called it a “quarter of a loaf” measure) that was designed to preserve the parasitic healthcare insurance industry and big pharma; and beyond that, he didn’t even try to accomplish anything significant regarding climate change or much of anything else. (For more on Obama’s betrayal of the people who voted for him, see “Obama and His Base: An Abusive Relationship, part 3.“)

(I mention all this for two reasons: 1) one always suspects, generally correctly, that when writers treat politicians reverentially, it’s because they’re not fully doing their jobs — as Frank Kent famously said, “The only way a reporter should look on a politician is down”; and more importantly 2) because, if we elect another business-as-usual, corporate Democrat in 2020, it’s a good bet that his or her response to the climate crisis will be, as usual, very inadequate.)

But aside from the Obama worship, there’s little to dislike in The Water Will Come. The book is a useful reminder and illustration of the seriousness of the global warming problem, how bad its effects already are in some places, and how much worse those effects are likely to get — especially if we don’t start making real changes now.

Recommended.

Comments
  1. Peter Jones says:

    Good review, thanks! You’ve probably read Bacigalupi’s 2 excellent dystopian novels.
    But, as to this reality, at the risk of being written off as a “pessimistic doomer”, I have to point out the real likelihood that it’s too late. Mitigation, sure. But the context should be we’re many years too late, and soon the positive feedbacks will make that clear.
    If you’re interested, I can point you towards some good descriptions/explanations of our predicament. Most people don’t want to know, because of the implications….

    Like

    • Thanks for the comment. I’m not as pessimistic as you are, though. There are some mitigation efforts that could have a major effect in slowing climate change and eventually stabilizing the climate (if we’re lucky, maybe in the 22nd century); whether they’ll be implemented is another matter. What scares me is release of all the methane hydrate in the arctic, which could happen within the next few decades. That would create a real nightmare.

      As for Bacigalupi, I really enjoyed “The Windup Girl” and had very mixed feelings about “The Water Knife,” which works well as a novel but irritated the hell out of me. I’m from Phoenix, live in Tucson, and his utter lack of familiarity with the area is very obvious — don’t set a novel in a place you apparently have never set foot in — and I wasn’t thrilled with his gross exaggeration of the likely climate change effects here. Things will be bad enough as is. Exaggerating what’s likely to happen (well, is already happening) down here is fine for dramatic effect, but he really went overboard. I go into all this in much more detail in the review I posted a couple of years ago after the novel came out.

      Thanks again for the comment.

      Like

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