The first Thanksgiving was celebrated by our ancestors 400 years ago this month. The year before, in 1620, 102 men, women and children emigrated from England to land in the new world. Some, fleeing religious persecution, others, merely searching for better lives, migrated to this new world. For many, this Atlantic migration was an existential threat; 51 of the Mayflower’s 102 passengers died before this first Thanksgiving.
Nearer to home, since the time of the pilgrims, more than 500 islands in the Chesapeake Bay have disappeared because of sea level rise(SLR) and erosion. Tangier Island “is now the last remaining inhabited offshore island in Virginia’s bay waters.” The Virginia Institute of Marine Science’s, David Schulte, then states that the “town of Tangier has already been severely impacted by climate-change-induced SLR.” Schulte concludes that SLR will flood the island, and, “by 2053, the people of the Town of Tangier will complete their exodus.” For Tangier, climate change is an existential threat. Just like the Mayflower passengers were migrants, the residents of the town of Tangier will become migrants.
Tangier’s residents are likely Virginia’s first climate refugees, though both Louisiana and Alaska are already relocating residents. By the end of this century, the US is projected to have 13 million climate refuges from SLR alone. This number is based on conservative projections of only 1 meter of SLR. Recent projections expect twice this SLR. SLR from climate change is an existential threat for those 13 million Americans.
Climate change causes sea levels to rise both by warming the oceans and melting land ice. As water is heated, it expands, just like mercury expands in a thermometer as it warms. As Greenland, Antarctica, and terrestrial glaciers melt accelerates, their runoff pours into the oceans. This sea level rise is an existential threat.
James Holland, does say, “Climate change-An existential threat,” I think he does not mean it though, as he immediately says, this existential threat, “comes not from the climate.”
To the 13 million Americans who will be forced to migrate because of climate change induced SLR, climate change is an existential threat. To the Defense Department, “climate change is a profoundly destabilizing force,” in part, because it can lead to mass migration.
Last summer’s heat wave in the pacific northwest, which killed hundreds of people, is an existential threat. The present Colorado wild fires, in areas usually blanketed with snow, have already taken human life, remain an existential threat.
Climate change is an existential threat. More than 200 medical journals conclude that climate change is the greatest threat to public health.
Though climate change is an existential health threat, I am thankful we already many solutions. Renewables are often the cheapest power available and will only get cheaper. I am thankful, that before Paris in 2015, we were on track for 4C of warming. After Glasgow, we are on track for only 2.4C warming. I am thankful that so many are working on solutions to this existential threat.
Nick Snow is a resident of Boyce.