The Future Is Now
Climate change has been scientifically proven and is here and now. It portends a bleak future for humankind and is a global crisis of great urgency that, thankfully and at last, was acknowledged by the international community at the Paris accord on climate of December 2015 and revisited and reinforced significantly but perhaps inadequately in the 2021 COP 26 Glasgow Climate Pact. My America’s Endangered Coast… book and the continuing project of that name is my response to this phenomenon.
For this project, my photographic approach is to document sites along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts so low in elevation that they will be severely affected by rising sea levels and storm surges.
I photograph these coastal areas as they are today, in their seemly normal “business as usual” state. I also photograph sites affected by big coastal storms such as the Hurricanes Rita and Katrina in 2005, Gustav and Ike in 2008, Irene in 2011, Sandy in 2012, Arthur in 2014, Irma in 2017, and Michael in 2018. Being so close to the water, these sites of storm damage are at an elevation that makes them vulnerable to high tides, storm surges, and hurricanes. These storms are now more frequent and severe because of global warming in the oceans and atmosphere. In 2014, 2019 and 2021 I revisited sites I had previously photographed to show the changes during the slow recovery from these brutal storms. For all photographs in the book and the continuing series, I record the exact locations with GPS coordinates and elevations above sea level to emphasize the specificity and fragility of these environments. In the future, these sites may be revisited by myself or anyone to see the ongoing changes that are sure to come as sea levels rise while the development and rebuilding continues.
The current effects of high tides, storm surges, and hurricanes on low-lying coastal areas, essentially any elevation less than fifteen feet, give us a glimpse into a future in which these same areas will be frequently under attack or completely destroyed as seas continue to rise and storms intensify. The IPCC (Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change) estimates for sea levels a century from now predict a rise of 3.3 feet (1.006 meters) as a virtual certainty, with a plausible range much higher, according to recent scientific research by Dr. James Hansen and others. A probable five-foot sea level rise would submerge 22,000 square miles (56,980 square kilometers) of U.S. Coastline on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts alone. All the other coastal areas of the world will, of course, share this fate, and the vast majority of people in the world live in these coastal regions. After the 100-year mark, seas will continue to rise, as the effects of global warming will continue and may even spiral completely out of control if actions from the Paris and Glasgow accords fail to meet the minimum prescribed goals for an increase in the world’s atmospheric temperature. To that end, there may still be time to stabilize the global climate, if and only if the current “business as usual” patterns of human activity are changed in the near future.
My photographs show the unsustainable and seemingly endless development of barrier islands and other fragile and low-lying coastal environments. They underscore the absurdity of our current state of denial, when it comes to climate change and sea-rise.