An invited speaker at the Singapore Writers Festival 2018, author Jeff Goodell from the US speaks his mind on just how the climate has changed and what we can all do about it to Mallika Naguran of Gaia Discovery. Listen to his lecture on Sunday 11 November at the Victoria Theatre from 3-4 pm.
SINGAPORE, 8 November 2018. Will the water come in the form of rising seas, storms, floods, typhoons and more to destroy what mankind has built? Hard questions they may be, but confronting them head-on is Jeff Goodell, the author of The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Reshaping of the Civilized World.
Investigative journalist Jeff Goodell has authored six books, three of which deal with the environment. Prior to The Water Will Come, Goodell had written and published Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America’s Energy Future; and How to Cool the Planet: Geoengineering and the Audacious Quest to Fix the Earth’s Climate.
His newest book – The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Reshaping of the Civilized World – is based on scientific research and on-the-ground reporting, and said to be written in the tradition of environmental classics such as Silent Spring and The World Without Us. It was a New York Times Critics' Top Book of 2017, and one of Booklist's Top 10 Science Books of 2017.
Gaia Discovery posed some questions to Goodell, who will be delivering a lecture at the Singapore Writers Festival.
What were the motivations for writing The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Reshaping of the Civilized World?
I have been writing about climate change for more than 15 years. I’ve travelled all over the world, from Greenland to South Africa, reporting on everything from drought to wildfires. But my understanding of the risks of sea level rise really began in 2012, when Hurricane Sandy hit New York City. I saw what a three meter storm surge could do to rich and powerful city like New York. And three meters is about the high end of how much sea level rise we could see by 2100. Then shortly after Sandy hit, I visited Miami during normal high tides, and saw that the tidal flooding was already serious. It became very clear to me that, because of a variety of factors – including billions of dollars-worth of real estate right on the water and the low, flat topography of South Florida – that if you take climate change seriously, Miami is in big, big trouble. What, if anything, can be done to save Miami? And if Miami is in big trouble, what about other coastal cities in the world? And that is basically how the book was born.
What are a few highlights of your latest book? Who should read it and why?
When I think of my favorite parts of the book, I think of my account of a three day trip to Alaska in 2015 with then-President Obama, during which I got to spend a good deal of time with him talking about the politics of climate change. I think of my trip to Marshall Islands, where sea level rise is an existential risk – their country will vanish. I think of my visit to Lagos, where I spent time with people living in the city’s water slums, where I learned a lot about how to adapt to rising seas.
As for who should read my book, I’d say anyone who considers themselves an informed citizen of Planet Earth. Sea level rise is going to profoundly reshape the world as we know it. Also, anyone who owns a home in a coastal city, or who has investments in coastal real estate, should read this book. Because the risks are huge.
What are your thoughts on the latest IPPC’s Global Warming of 1.5C report? Hopefully it is being read by all policy makers worldwide (including Australia’s environment minister who dismisses the report as baseless!).
The latest IPCC report is terrifyingly clear and straightforward. A consensus of the best scientists in the world is telling us that climate change is real, it’s happening now, and it’s happening fast. There is nothing speculative about it. We only have a few decades to reduce carbon emissions, or we will condemn our children and grandchildren, and many generations beyond that, to life on a superheated plant, one with a radically different climate than humans have ever lived through before.
Am I optimistic that this report will change anything? No. I think it’s vitally important to do everything we can to reduce carbon pollution. But at the same time, it’s also time to prepare for life on a very different planet. Because no matter what we do with carbon pollution, it’s too late to “stop” climate change. That’s one reason why I titled my book, The Water Will Come, instead of, say, The Water Will Come Unless We All Install Solar Panels on Our Homes.
People often ask me, given that we are already seeing extreme weather events and the political inertia in some parts of the world to act quickly to address climate change and/or global warming, is it too late to act? How would you respond to that?
It’s absolutely not too late to act. Every ton of coal we avoid burning, every rainforest we preserve, every barrel of oil that stays in the ground, brings us that much closer to maintaining a stable climate. At the same time, it’s important to acknowledge that we’ve already dumped billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and it’s going to have an impact. And we need to prepare for that, and do all we can to minimize the risks.
How would you respond to climate change deniers?
Well, climate change deniers come in lots of different flavors, so it’s hard to generalize. But in general, the people I’m trying to reach are the people who understand that climate change is real and caused by human activity, but don’t really grasp the full scale of the consequences of this, or the risks we face, now and in the future.
What do you intend to speak about at the Singapore Writers Festival?
I’ll talk about my three year journey reporting this book, and what I learned about the risks and consequences of sea level rise to coastal cities around the world. I’ll talk about what can be done, as well what can’t be done, to protect coastal cities. And I’ll explain why sea level rise will have enormous political and economic implications for a place like Singapore. Ultimately, I’ll argue that climate change is going to force us to radically rethink our relationship with water, changing how and where we live.
The Singapore Writers Festival is on from 2-11 November 2018. Find out more on the festival’s website.
Photo of Jeff Goodell courtesy of Singapore Writers Festival