Seasick at the U.N.


Americans just aren't scared enough by global warming to take it seriously. That's the lesson from the poll published in the Washington Post lastmonth showing prospective Savior-in-Chief Al Gore down by 19 percent. Ifpeople really thought Gore's pet cause was such a threat, wouldn't theyvote to protect their children? Can "Clinton fatigue" be that bad?

Our friends at the United Nations understand the need to get the UnitedStates more involved in stopping global warming. They also understandAmericans' basic sense of fair play and compassion, as evinced by oursending troops to Somalia, Haiti, Kosovo, Ersatz-Yugoslavia and maybe Dili. If some nation can convince us it's getting the short end of the stick,U.S. largesse is not far behind.

To enlist our help, the United Nations is currently holding a specialconference of "island states" that view themselves as threatened by globalwarming in general and sea level rise in particular.

"In low-lying areas, the sea has claimed our burial grounds," said SamoanUN envoy Tuiloma Neroni Slade, chairman of the Alliance of Small IslandStates (AOSIS), an official UN hectoring organization. Slade added that inthe Maldives, about 800 miles south of Bombay, "Climate change is alreadytaking effect in terms of some of the life support systems." Ditto for theMarshall Islands, Vanuatu et cetera.

Slade is banking on Americans' being too guilt ridden to check the factsand ratifying the Kyoto Protocol on global warming pronto in order to makeup for our sins. Unfortunately, facts are just a click away.

The 1995 report of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change(IPCC) contains a whole chapter on sea level rise, complete with charts.The monitoring station closest to Samoa is Sydney, Australia, where therehas been a truly tiny rise in sea level of only 3.14 inches in the last 100years. But almost all of that took place before 1950. Since then, therise in sea level, which has "claimed their burying grounds," has been 0.4inches.

In the IPCC report, Bombay is the station nearest the Maldives. As CaseyStengel used to say, "You could look it up," and there it is: sea level hasfallen an inch in Bombay in the last 50 years.

Nice try, Mr. Slade.

Of course, the IPCC forecasts that sea level will rise in the next 100years. The most recent projection gives two median values: 19.3 inchesfrom one model and 10.6 inches from another termed "equally plausible."But global warming is proceeding at a slower pace than those modelsassumed, so it's probably a good idea to cut the totals by a third or so.Could Pacific Islanders adapt to 10 inches of sea-level rise in the courseof a century?

Consider the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where, every few years, the searises about 12 feet in 10 minutes. This is a hurricane. Because ofhurricanes, up until 1950 or so very few people lived there. Fearing thewind, the handful of mainlanders who came in the 1950s built littleone-story "flattop" homes, nestled beneath the dune crest to protect themfrom the wind.

When away from home, those people were able to charge $100 or so a week fora summer "beachfront" rental, which really meant a human-eye view of thebarrier dune. The flattop owners then discovered that wind wasn't theproblem after all, as their vacation houses were washed away into the seaby the numerous hurricanes of the 1950s and 60s.

One day they got the fine idea of elevating their homes on stilts so thesea could rush harmlessly underneath during a hurricane. Of course, thatdidn't protect them from a direct hit by the northeastern eyewall of aCategory 3 storm. In that case, a beachfront home is usually plumb out ofluck, but the damage swaths in such storms are surprisingly narrowconsidering the thousands of miles of developed coastline from Brownsville,Texas, to Eastport, Maine. Somehow, damaged areas tend to appear larger onTV.

Stilts protect the houses from most every other hurricane. And, as a sidebenefit of the elevation of their homes, vacationers now view sunrises overthe Atlantic Ocean and sunsets over Albemarle Sound from the same house.Rent skyrocketed, to $5,000 per week in high season.

A trip to Kwajelein in the Marshall Islands reveals that most of the homesare as close to the ground as they were in North Carolina before someonediscovered how to make big bucks and survive foot after foot of extremelyrapid tidal inundation. It seems probable that the AOSIS people willfigure out how to adapt to 10 inches of sea-level rise in 100 years. Theydon't need our help to raise property values fiftyfold. And if they don't,it won't be because they couldn't.