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  • Writer's pictureAnn Donahue

Read This: "The Water Will Come"

Updated: Jan 11, 2021

Oh gee, look at this pithy early pandemic intro to the New York Times' list of suggested climate change books. "Perhaps you prefer reading to escape reality..." oh haha. How droll you were, April 2020. Welp, reality comes for us all whether or not we're ready for it, it turns out.


That is also one of the key points of "The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities and the Remaking of the Civilized World" by Jeff Goodell, which, to give credit where credit was due, I picked up after seeing on that tone deaf New York Times list. Goodell takes a globetrotting looking at how municipalities are preparing — or, actually, not preparing — for the inevitable increase in ocean levels, from Miami to Venice to Alaska to Lagos to the Marshall Islands. And while every locale is approaching the issue in a different way, there is a throughline: None of them are doing enough, and what they are doing isn't happening as fast as it needs to.


This is incredibly frustrating to read about. It's an unrelenting crush of bureaucracy and venal politics in locale after locale. It is a double whammy: there is no simple solution to sea level rise, and there is no simple system to work within to try to find a solution. In this context, "The Water Will Come" focuses on individuals who are doing their damndest to make change, and it is with those people that threads of optimism can be found.




One jaw-dropping note: There is a section where Goodell travels with President Obama above the Arctic Circle to see the impact of climate change and check an end-of-second-term box to, well, go above the Arctic Circle. In his interview with Obama, the following exchange occurs:


Goodell says: "As you know, there is some uncertainty in these studies, but the error bars are all in the direction of more seal-level rise that we anticipate, not less..."


Obama replies: "Look, part of my job is to read stuff that terrifies me all the time."


[Goodell] couldn't help but laugh, the way [Obama] said it. "That's true, I suppose."


"I've got a chronic concern about pandemics, for example. And the odds are that sometime in our lifetime there's gonna be something like the Spanish flu that wipes out a lot of people...if we're not taking care. I do what I can do and as much as I can do and what I don't want to do is get paralyzed by the magnitude of the thing and what I don't want is for people to get paralyzed thinking that somehow this is out of our control."


That exchange took place in 2015. Another reminder to return our focus to the smart, prescient individuals trying to do good work in a seemingly impossible system.


Disclosure: I am an affiliate of Bookshop.org and I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. This commission will be donated to the NRDC.





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