When the climate change talks convene in Paris next month, global attention will focus on island nations like the equatorial Maldives, which are quickly being swamped by sea level rise.
But I don’t have to go to France or the equator to see this scary phenomenon. It’s happening close to home. Not a two hour drive from my home, Smith Island in the Chesapeake Bay is becoming submerged by steadily rising waters, sending homes toppling and forcing residents to flee to higher ground far from the communities they know and love.
Smith Island lies 80 miles east of the Capitol, smack dab in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay. The island is home to 300 fishermen plus many others who make their living on and around the water: boat builders, shopkeepers, artists. The folks who make the famous Smith Island cake live there, too.
Even before the polar ice caps started melting, Smith Island, only four square miles and less than 2 feet above sea level, was low enough and flat enough that it didn’t take much to flood. But if, thanks to global warming pollution, the Greenland ice sheet continues to melt, warns Mike Tidwell, the executive director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, “then Smith Island will almost certainly disappear even faster than the Maldives and faster than several much-publicized South Pacific island nations.”
“The whole eastern third of Maryland, in fact, is in big trouble, from Ocean City to Solomons Island to Annapolis…” ~ Mike Tidell
I’m lucky. I live inland and in a house that’s built on stilts. But for all those people who live on Smith Island or anywhere else near the Chesapeake Bay, their future is going to be very soggy, and maybe even threatening. Interactive displays at the visitor center at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Cambridge, MD, show that by the end of this century, more than half of Dorchester County, the third-largest county in the state in terms of land area and directly adjacent to the Bay, will be under water, reports Baltimore Magazine.
It might be easy to overlook Smith Island, given how small and out of the way it is. But cities like Annapolis, the capital of Maryland, and Baltimore have also become susceptible. Indeed, “floods have already increased by more than 900 percent in both cities since 1960,” notes Baltimore Magazine reporter Ron Cassie.
“Some projections call for 225 or more such floods a year for Baltimore and, essentially, daily inundation for Annapolis by 2045.”
Daily inundation! At that level of flooding, what would be left to be overtaken by the Bay, and what could, and would, be saved?
At the climate change talks in Paris, representatives from the Maldives, as well as Fiji, Tuvalu, and the Marshall Islands will call for an end to new coal mines and more ambitious limits to global warming.
“We in the Pacific are innocent bystanders in the greatest act of folly of any age,”
“Unless the world acts decisively in the coming weeks to begin addressing the greatest challenge of our age, then the Pacific, as we know it, is doomed.” ~ Fijian prime minister Frank Bainimarama, at a pre-Paris summit convened by Pacific Island nations.
The same can be said about Smith Island and the rest of the cities and towns along the Chesapeake Bay.
Photo: Bay Journal