My second novel, Goodbye Miami, features a dramatic rise in sea level between now and the year 2030. This was mostly just a literary device — a simple way to explore the consequences of sea level rise in the near future rather than telling a story in some distant future where AI is self-aware, warp drive is real, and the Cubs have won the World Series.
I was obviously concerned about real-life sea level rise. That’s why I chose to write a climate fiction (cli-fi) novel. But I didn’t actually assume that the city of Miami would be swallowed up by the sea in less than two decades.
Now, I’m starting to wonder.
A new study published by James Hansen and 16 coauthors projects that sea level rise due to global warming may be far more rapid and severe than previous projections indicated. The widely-touted international goal of limiting warming to two degrees Celsius may not be sufficient to prevent catastrophic sea level rise well before the end of the century. In fact, even one degree Celsius may be enough warming to put many major cities underwater this century — and we’re already fast approaching the one degree mark.
Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. As an author, a part of me finds it very surreal and somewhat chilling that my exaggerated scenario in Goodbye Miami may in fact become a reality. However, as a climate justice advocate and long-time climate news observer, I can’t say that I’m entirely surprised. Fossil fuel industry thinktanks portray the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as alarmist, but the IPCC actually tends to be conservative, consistently underestimating the pace and impact of global warming. Policymakers often strike an unfortunate balance between these IPCC underestimations and the outright disinformation distributed by the fossil fuel thinktanks. This usually leads to public policy initiatives that either fail to make a substantial dent in greenhouse gas emissions or actively increase them, as is the case with fracking.
Is Hansen right? It will take time for peer review and future studies to confirm these findings. In the meantime, we already know more than enough information to develop and deploy reasonable science-based public. Anthropogenic global warming is real; the consequences for human and non-human life are mostly very harmful; we must reduce our greenhouse gas emissions dramatically in order to avoid even greater harm to ourselves and future generations of human and non-human life.