Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach [see update]
Well, the claims of the “first climate refugees” are coming up again. I think we’re up to the ninth first climate refugees, it’s hard to keep track. In any case, I came across this:
International leaders gathering in Paris to address global warming face increasing pressure to tackle the issue of “climate refugees.” Some island nations are already looking to move their people to higher ground, even purchasing land elsewhere in preparation.
In the U.S. Northwest, sea-level rise is forcing a Native American tribe to consider abandoning lands it has inhabited for thousands of years.
The Quinault Indian Nation, whose small village lies at the mouth of the Quinault River on the outer coast of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, now relies on a 2,000-foot-long sea wall to protect it from the encroaching Pacific Ocean.
Small, ramshackle homes back up to the modest wall of rock and gravel. Last March, Quinault Tribal Council President Fawn Sharp got a call in the middle of the night from an elder who lives in one of those homes.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers repaired the sea wall, but it’s a temporary fix. A more permanent solution is on the table — but it won’t be cheap or easy.
The Quinault tribe has developed a $60 million plan to move the entire village of Taholah uphill and out of harm’s way. That will mean relocating the school, the courthouse, the police station and the homes of 700 tribal members a safer distance from the encroaching Pacific.
“It’s a heavy price tag,” Sharp acknowledged, adding that she and others with the Quinault will be turning to Congress, philanthropists and the tribe’s own financial resources to pay for the project.
So … just where are the Quinault, and what are they facing? The Quinault Reservation is on the Pacific side of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. NOAA has a “Climate Explorer” that lets us see just how great the danger might be from a one-foot (30-com) sea level rise. Here’s a blink comparator of the two for their main town, Taholah …
Hmmm … as you can see, even a one foot rise will do little to the town, doesn’t even make it in as far as the street nearest to the river.
In any case, how long will it take for the ocean to rise that one foot? To answer that, we can take a look at the nearest tide gauge, which is at Neah Bay on the tip of the Olympic Peninsula. Here is that record …
Ooops … according to the data, the sea level has been falling since the start of the tidal records … go figure. Since 1940 the sea level off of northern Washington has dropped about 15 cm. (6 inches). At that rate, how long will it take to rise one foot?
Could be a day or two …
So given that their claims of sea level rise are contradicted by the actual observations, why do the Quinault want to move? Well, more than anything it has to do with the upcoming terrifying tsunami that will strike the northwest coast. Is this an empty threat or a disaster movie scenario? By no means. Geological records indicate that the Juan De Fuca earthquake fault right off the coast has ruptured regularly throughout geological history, and is currently overdue for another major quake.
And each of the big historical quakes has been accompanied by a huge tsunami that smashed into the coast. So the question is not whether a giant tsunami will hit Taholah, but when it will hit.
Bottom line? According to the Quinault Relocation plan the concerns are “the ever-present threat of tsunamis and the growing risk from climate change impacts.” Sadly, the claim about climate is totally bogus. The same document says:
Ocean acidification, hypoxia events, sea level rise, coastal erosion, tidal surge, and increasing severity and intensity of storm events are now occurring with disturbing frequency.
Oh, please. Sea level is NOT rising, that’s a total misrepresentation. Nor have storm events increased in intensity or severity.
Look, I have compassion for the Quinault. In addition to all the other problems faced by reservations all over the US, they are staring an upcoming tsunami in the face. In their shoes I’d want to move, and I’d be making all kinds of noise about every possible threat to try to squeeze money out of the various donors and government agencies.
But other than the tsunami, the claims of danger are all smoke and mirrors. I wish them every success in getting the money … I just don’t like the misrepresentations in the process.
Best to everyone,
My Request: Misunderstandings can be reduced. If you disagree with someone, please have the courtesy to QUOTE THE EXACT WORDS YOUR OBJECT TO, so we can understand the exact nature of your disagreement.
[UPDATE]: In the comments someone asked about why the traditional people would live in a tsunami zone.
My GUESS, and it is only that, is that the Quinault historically didn’t “live” anywhere more specific than their traditional homeland. Within that, my guess is that they had structures in several locations where they resided when they were harvesting the various foods available in different parts of that homeland. One of the locations would be the main area where they spent more of the time. If I owned their turf, I’d live at the ocean, for a simple reason—that’s where the most food is.
As the commenter pointed out, traditional people have a long history in the area. In addition, traditional people usually a long memory as well. My GUESS, and it is only that, is that their traditional main village location is somewhere near the place marked “Assemble Here” with the white arrows on the Taholah Tsunami Evacuation Map, viz:
Per Google Earth, that location is on the order of a hundred feet (30 m) above sea level, and it is also outside the model simulated tsunami range shown in red. Those old guys knew more than we might imagine.
And indeed, that same area is near the proposed location of the relocated town, up on the highland. It’s the area at the lower right below, where you can see the real reason for the proposed relocation, and how little it has to do with climate change.
Ooog … they have to move the school and the senior center and the police and the tribal court and the wastewater treatment plant … a huge undertaking. Their relocation plan is here (with an awesome banner at the top), and I wish them the very best in their project.
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