Guangzhou Rising – Canton Sinking

Guest Essay by Kip Hansen

The New York Times seems to be running short of environmental journalists.  Its latest salvo in the attempt to keep climate change at the forefront of American minds was written by Michael Kimmelman.  “Who?”  you ask. Micheal Kimmelman, the current architecture critic of The New York Times.  (But, rest assured, we are told by his NY Times’ CV page, he was the paper’s chief art critic.)  Kidding about his actual experience and job title aside, it is all true, the Times tells us that Kimmelman’s reporting  “has often focused on urban affairs, public space, infrastructure and social equity as well as on new buildings and design.”

Kimmelman’s piece appears on April 7, 2017 in the WORLD section, under the heading Changing Climate, Changing Cities and bears the title “Rising Waters Threaten China’s Rising Cities” and is sub-titled “In the Pearl River Delta, breakneck development is colliding with the effects of climate change.”

The piece starts with the news:

“The rains brought torrents, pouring into basements and malls, the water swiftly rising a foot and a half.

The city of Dongguan, a manufacturing center here in the world’s most dynamic industrial region, was hit especially hard by the downpour in May 2014. More than 100 factories and shops were inundated. Water climbed knee-high in 20 minutes, wiping out inventory for dozens of businesses.

Next door in Guangzhou, an ancient, mammoth port city of 13 million, helicopters and a fleet of 80 boats had to be sent to rescue trapped residents. Tens of thousands lost their homes, and 53 square miles of nearby farmland were ruined. The cost of repairs topped $100 million.”

followed by a sad, but unlikely,  anecdote:

“Chen Rongbo, who lived in the city, saw the flood coming. He tried to scramble to safety on the second floor of his house, carrying his 6-year-old granddaughter. He slipped. The flood swept both of them away.”

(the news report indicates a water rise of 1.5 feet over 20 minutes….not exactly a flash flood.)

The story is about a springtime flood that happened three years ago.  Oh, you thought “rising waters” was going to reference the breakneck speed of rising sea level in Guangzhou, but no, this is a story about river flooding.

And Guangzhou?  Where is that when it gets up in the morning?  Well, like Istanbul is Constantinople and Constantinople is Istanbul, Guangzhou is the city-formerly-known-as-Canton.  The wiki tells us “Canton, is the capital and most populous city of the province of Guangdong in southern China. Located on the Pearl River about 120 km (75 mi) north-northwest of Hong Kong and 145 km (90 mi) north of Macau, Guangzhou was a major terminus of the maritime Silk Road and continues to serve as a major port and transportation hub.”  Further illuminating.  Guangzhou has a “a population of 13 million and forms part of one of the most populous metropolitan agglomerations on Earth. Some estimates place the population of the built-up area of the Pearl River Delta Mega City as high as 44 million without Hong Kong and 54 million including it.”

Describing Guangzhou as being “on the Pearl River” can be misleading — like saying NY City is “on the Hudson River”.   More pertinent is this picture:


A small part of Guangzhou from the air.  (photo credit: believed to be by Josh Haner)

The Pearl River is in the foreground, on the left.  To the left are rice paddies.  In the background is the Shizi Ocean, a long arm of tidal estuary extending north and a bit west from the Zhujiang River Estuary, which is the main body of water west of Hong Kong, which feeds into the South China Sea.

This is the Pearl River Delta area — to understand this, we need another map:

Almost virtually every river in south China ends at Guangzhou.

Kimmelman tells us:

“Flooding has been a plague for centuries in southern China’s Pearl River Delta. So even the rains that May, the worst in the area in years, soon drifted from the headlines. People complained and made jokes on social media about wading through streets that had become canals and riding on half-submerged buses through lakes that used to be streets. But there was no official hand-wringing about what caused the floods or how climate change might bring more extreme storms and make the problems worse.

Apparently, Kimmelman is not required to actually research his “infrastructure and social equity” pieces or he would already know these two things  which are common knowledge and which explain why “there was no official hand-wringing”:

  1. Canton/Guangzhou historically was a city of canals — almost a Venice — on the Pearl River flood plain. Modern Guangzhou is built over the top of the old canals, but only by 3 feet (1 meter) or so.

Canals and waterways that once helped to drain Guangzhou have been paved over. (Library of Congress, via Getty Images).

Like Miami Beach, Florida,  Guangzhou has been built less than a meter above  “The rising South China Sea and the overstressed Pearl River network lie just a meter or so below much of this new multitrillion-dollar development.” (quoting Kimmelman).

Like Miami Beach, much of the infrastructure of the city has been built below known historic water levels and in many areas, lower than normally expected high high tides.

  1. The South China Sea is one of the areas of the Earth’s oceans that don’t seem to be experiencing even the general planet-wide mean sea level rise of approximate 8 inches of the last century.

This map shows the geographical relationship of Guangzhou/Canton to Hong Kong, which is the site of the three closest tides stations of the Global Sea Level Observing System with current data.  The link is to Quarry Bay, at Hong Kong, GLOSS station #77  (bottom right).  [To see plots, scroll down to “Data in PSMSL” and click on the two little icons.]    Two of the stations show that sea level is currently approximately at the same level as in the 1950s — units are millimeters.  Only Quarry Bay shows any relative sea level rise at all — and that only 3 inches since 1980, most of which occurred 1980-2000 and sea level appears flat since then.  In short, the South China Sea is not rising, at least not in this area.  The journalistic alarm seems based on recent papers such as this in which concern for the future is based on projected models of sea level rise in the South China Sea, rise, which according to local tides gauges, is not currently happening.

Tides, of course, play a big role in flooding — as in storm surge and during heavy spring rains (historically monstrous  in the region)  — the state of the tide directly determines or adds to local flooding — particularly Spring Tides and King Tides, which are the highest tides of the year.

So, for Canton/Guangzhou, what are the tides like?  The range of tides for Dongzhou International Terminal in Dongguan (see map above – about 20 miles southeast of Guangzhou on the Shizi Ocean) and for all other Dongzhou terminals is 0.3 to 3 meters.  That means that today, under normal circumstances, there are tides that alone regularly flood much of the lowest lying parts of the city.

In 2015, The Economist calmly explained:  “Why are so many Chinese cities flooded?  The short answer is that the country’s urban sprawl has been expanding much faster than its drainage infrastructure could catch up.“

Guangzhou sits at the head of a long estuary, the Shizi Ocean, and at the terminus of the Pearl River and its multiple tributaries.   When storms push water up the estuary and slow or even reverse the release of rising, flood-stage river water to the Shizi Ocean, serious flooding occurs.  And, as we know “Flooding has been a plague for centuries in southern China’s Pearl River Delta”

How serious is the flooding risk? Here’s what a single meter of rising water causes for Guangzhou:

The blue is flood water — covering a high percentage of the megalopolis that includes Guangzhou and its 13 million people and its manufacturing centers.  [Hong Kong, however, is almost virtually unaffected, as it sits up high and dry, only Shenzhen’s lowest lying coastal/delta area see any effect of a 1 meter rise.]

The Bottom Line:

China’s new capitalism has been spurring unbridled growth of new population centers and manufacturing centers — seeming unthinking growth.  Like much of the growth around the world, massive amounts of infrastructure — worth billions of dollars —  are being built directly in harm’s way — built on known flood plains, built on land below known historic high tide levels and Nature’s previously existing safety-valves for excess flood waters have been closed off — like the Meadowlands of New Jersey — and the natural runoff canals of Guangzhou.

There is little or no evidence that “climate change” has affected this area of China — where there has been little relative sea level rise, far less than the planetary average, and no data has been provided (nor could I find any in a serious search online) for historic rainfall amounts.  We do know,  however,  that “has been a plague for centuries in southern China’s Pearl River Delta” and nothing particularly odd  is happening there in the present.

There is something new happening here though.  Predictable periodic widespread floods, for which this river delta is famous, no longer are flooding sleepy fishing villages and far-flung rice paddies.  Instead, these all-too-common events are flooding modern high-tech factories, high-rise apartment building basements and first floors, high-speed highways and the rail system that moves tremendous quantities of raw materials, manufactured goods and the workers that make them, costing China’s economy (and its insurers) hundreds of millions of dollars.

Human folly and greed have been proven, once again, to far outweigh common sense in the rush to modernize and create wealth.

# # # # #

Author’s Comment Policy:

Despite the rising evidence that there is something terribly wrong with the ever-changing/never-changing Climate Change Consensus (CO2/GHG driven global warming) hypothesis,  journalists around the world struggle to turn every story into a Climate Change story — apparently there is a still a strong market for any story that can find something to blame on the Climate Change boogeyman.  Like this NY Times story, the “evidence” for the posited cause ranges from  non-existent to very weak association, nearly always being based solely on predictions [unproven, not yet seen in the wild]  future effects.  Fact-less journalism seems to be becoming the new normal.

Please share your experience and views on fact-less journalism in the Comments. If you have lived in the Hong Kong — Guangzhou area of southern China in the last 50 years or so, I’d love to hear your experiences with rainfall and river flooding there.

As always, I’ll try to answer any sensible questions (I don’t respond to trolls).

# # # # #

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April 12, 2017 12:52 am

If they can create islands out of nothing in the South China Sea….what’s the drama.

Reply to  Pierre
April 12, 2017 4:41 am

Pierre said it all.

Well, except for:

The New York Times seems to be running short of environmental journalists.

The NY Crimes is running short of journalists period! They do have some copywriters. But are losing them as well.

Reply to  philjourdan
April 12, 2017 8:11 am

Not copy writers. Propogandists.
If you have a point of view, write from that point of view, include no information other than support for your point of view, and you don’t even research your subject, THAT is propoganda.

Reply to  philjourdan
April 12, 2017 8:46 am

Flat out declare that either yours is the only point of view, or that any point of view that differs from the official one is invalid and probably criminal.

April 12, 2017 1:47 am

Constantinople is Istanbul or perhaps St Petersburg is Leningrad and now again is St Petersburg
St. Petersburg, former capital of Russia, was founded by Peter the Great. This great city was built on a swamp on the shores of River Neva and open to the Baltic Sea. It is reported that at the time emperor’s courtiers laughed at the emperor’s idea (I’m sure not on his face).
What we have to remember is that the building started in1703, while the Little Ice Age was all the rage, so to speak, at the time the sea level should have been lower, and the SLR should have flooded the city by now.
But it appears that the Tsar Peter was just as good an architect as the empire builder.
The city indeed was exposed to storm surges flooding; so a 15 mile long barrier was built, completed and opened in 2011 by the city’s born and bred favourite son, none other than Vladimir Putin, thus this great city’s history rounded the circle from one Great to another would be emperor.

April 12, 2017 1:52 am

Brilliant research.

Wyss Yim
Reply to  HotScot
April 12, 2017 2:43 pm

I have published an analysis of tide gauge measurements in the June 2016 issue of Hong Kong Engineer. This article is available on Research gate.
Both the North Point tide gauge (1954-1986) and the Quarry Bay tide gauge (1987-present) used for providing the record are located on reclaimed land prone to ground movement. Interestingly sea level rose by 29 cm from 1987 to 1999 after the move of tide gauge which is not supported by other tide gauges within Hong Kong. In spite of this uncertainty, since the 1999 sea-level peak, there has been a 17-year pause in sea-level rise to the year 2016.
Hong Kong’s immediate problems are rainstorm and storm surge-induced flooding instead of future sea-level rise caused by climate change. State-of-the-art surveying methods such as INSAR is needed to resolve the problem of ground movement on reclaimed land as well as crustal stability changes.

Reply to  Wyss Yim
April 12, 2017 4:55 pm


Reply to  Wyss Yim
April 13, 2017 4:20 am

Excellent factual response. I live in HK [6.5 years] and note no apparent fear by the authorities of rising seas. On my way home by bus much of the Wanchai bypass development is not that far above sea level.

Moderately Cross of East Anglia
April 12, 2017 2:11 am

This is a bit like – but more serious if you live in Guangzhou – the way the Thames Barrier protecting London against tidal surges story is going. The Thames Barrier was envisaged and built by sensible people who knew that London would be gradually subject to more flooding threats over the long term because of the slow sinking of SE England as the British Isles readjusted isosatically after the ice over Northern Britain melted at the end of the ice age. Perhaps they even calculated that big cities built on estuary mud and abstracting drinking water from beneath their feet would also lead to that sinking feeling.

Now all we get is-headless chicken stories about global warming threatening to overwhelm the Thames barrier and flood central London. Of course London might indeed one day be flooded by a large tidal surge but rising sea level isn’t going to be the main culprit – failing to dredge the river upstream of the Barrier properly might prove to be one factor. But why spoil a good global warming story with some detail no one really needs.

Reply to  Moderately Cross of East Anglia
April 12, 2017 3:21 am

For many years, from an office window I watched the Thames at the hi and low tides at the Waterloo bridge. The difference is about 20ft (6m). When the barrier was closed either for tests or on a very rare occasions to prevent tide surge, the river is mere shadow of its appearance at the hide tide. One more reason is that the large volumes of water are pumped out (far up the stream) to provide London with water which eventually again ends in the river, but this time far down the stream, all facilitated by the grand Victorian engineering project and the genius of Joseph Bazalgette.

Reply to  Moderately Cross of East Anglia
April 13, 2017 10:33 am

Somewhat like failing to dredge properly The Somerset Levels?

Stan Vinson
April 12, 2017 2:19 am

“, and 53 square miles of nearby farmland were ruined.”

Sixty years ago, I was taught the Nile, Amazon, and Mississippi rivers would flood and bring sediments that enriched the farmland. “When I think back on all the things I learned in high school…….”

Reply to  Stan Vinson
April 12, 2017 7:30 am

Nowadays, the Nile is dammed and many of the Mississippi’s banks are lined with concrete, so that yearly supply of natural fertilizer is now either blocked or dumped at the river mouth. The Amazon still flows freely for the most part, but farmers there have another problem. It rains so often that without the dense foliage of the rain forest to hold it in place, topsoil is quickly lost to runoff. A freshly slashed-and-burned field will be good for a year, maybe two, then fertility drops off rapidly.

Also, flood waters in heavily developed areas pick up stuff like gasoline from inundated cars and other generally nasty stuff, so any nearby farmland is more likely to be poisoned by a flood than fertilized.

Reply to  drednicolson
April 12, 2017 9:01 am

And all that damming and channeling of the Mississippi has created a HUGE problem for Southern Louisiana, which no doubt is similar to the problem Guanzhou has.

Short geology lesson – almost all great rivers have their deltas in basins where the land is permanently subsiding for reasons related to plate tectonics. That’s why those rivers flowed their in the first place – as the saying goes, water is gravity’s dog, it follows it everywhere.

In southern La, the land is sinking at a rate of about an inch a decade, iirc, which is huge, EXCEPT that the Mississippi used to dump much more than that in new silt on top of the land as the residue of the floods built up. The result was that the delta was stable, the land added by the floods counteracting the subsidence caused by the geology. (amazing how nature works that out) BUT when men build dams and channels and take great efforts to stop the flooding, all of the new land creation stops with it, and within a century or two, all of the land that was formerly delta will revert to open ocean – that will be southern La.’s fate if we don’t allow the flooding to begin.

And although I don’t know the geology of Guangzhou, it’s a pretty good guess much the same thing is happening, since that’s the rule for great river deltas.

Reply to  drednicolson
April 12, 2017 10:53 pm

@wws April 12, 2017 at 9:01 am

Man cannot turn around mother nature. New Orleans is in serious trouble, but politicians refuse to admit it. It’s “the Mistake by the Lake” (i.e. Lake Pontchartrain). It’s yet another example of the folly of building on a flood plain or river at near (and in parts *BELOW*) sea level. Even worse, new Orleans is a totally artificial construct. When the area was first explored by the French, the Mississippi River didn’t have a mouth into the ocean. The river simply went into the “Black Swamp” and disappeared. This was where ships headed down river had to stop and unload their goods to be transshipped across Lake Pontchartrain to the sea. This was done by unloading the goods at the docks and then hauling them to the lake where shallow draft boats would take the goods to the seagoing ships.


At this time the City of New Orleans is effectively a ringed, sinking island 10 feet or more below sea level, and something close to 20 miles off shore of the USA. In about 50 years, it will be nearly 60 miles off shore and will be at least 40 feet below sea level. To keep the city the dikes will have to be so high as to stagger the imagination and our national budget.

To summarize: The river is leaving the city. The city is sinking because of its weight, because no upbuilding by new muck for many decades, because of being cut off from the fresh water, because it is falling off a cliff (the Continental Shelf), and because the Oil and Gas Industry is sucking it down like a kid slurping a root beer float.

Anthony Lucas
Reply to  drednicolson
April 13, 2017 9:15 pm
Reply to  Stan Vinson
April 12, 2017 7:37 am

Ruined is clearly wrong. Perhaps crops were ruined. Farmland ruined by a flood? Ludicrous.

H. D. Hoese
Reply to  Kip Hansen
April 12, 2017 8:32 am

Good point. An octopus was reported caught at New Orleans in 1936, which sounds unlikely until you know what the city is built on and that the salt wedge in the Mississippi River can go farther upstream. Gulf level for the irregular river bottom is something like 400 miles upstream, but would like to see the current figures. Long ago a geologist walked the bottom with a “primitive” diving suit.

Reply to  Kip Hansen
April 12, 2017 8:48 am

Isn’t salt water flooding usually driven by storm surges? The type of flooding mentioned in the article is fresh water flooding coming from upstream.

Reply to  Kip Hansen
April 12, 2017 9:07 am

A big difference is that the Hudson is not part of a river delta but a single river confined in a glacial valley . More a fjord than a flood plain . That’s over in Jersey .

Reply to  Kip Hansen
April 12, 2017 2:33 pm

Kip O worked on a project years ago that worked on installing air screens in that type of river delta the air would raise the heavier slat water up and mix it in with the out going river water, at eb tides the river would also push the salt water out. Seemed to work, I wonder if it still being used or improved on.

Reply to  Kip Hansen
April 12, 2017 2:34 pm

“I ” worked ( But it is Wednesday).

April 12, 2017 2:33 am

Hysteria level 9 from the Green Blob as they reconcile a wholly unexpected type of climate Armageddon – total collapse of their theory followed by the derailing of their entire climate gravy train. Make no mistake, they’re VERY worried.

Gary Pearse
April 12, 2017 2:47 am

Kip, a masterful piece of work that should be an exhibit in schools of journalism everywhere for the way to research a story . Too bad it can’t be published these days in another NY paper as contrast for a much put upon and badly served citizenry.

It occurred to me while reading it that fleshed out stories like yours would sell newspapers! I’m afraid the template, moaning aspect of all the major newspapers has put them all on the pathway to extinction. And this at the best time ever for doing research on any story.

Reply to  Gary Pearse
April 12, 2017 7:38 am


Reply to  Gary Pearse
April 12, 2017 8:26 am

The NY Times along with many media are struggling to compete. They still survive by advertising, but now with so much competition and people’s short attention spans in the digital age the headlines and articles are geared more to target audiences. Now more than ever, the media has to focus to know their customer….NY Times customers are left leaning and they want articles to the left. The NY Times will give them exactly what they want to ensure clicks for ad money.

Roger Knights
Reply to  Doug
April 12, 2017 1:11 pm

More to the point, if the NY Times were to publish contrarian stories, it would outrage many of its readers, losing “cred” and subscriptions. An example of this was the heated reaction of PBS viewers to its interview of Anthony.

Gary Pearse
Reply to  Kip Hansen
April 12, 2017 12:22 pm

Kip, I’m in my 80th this fall, so like you most of my research (metallurgy, mining engineer and geologist) was library and subscribing to a bunch of journals.

David Chappell
April 12, 2017 3:28 am

I believe that the Quarry Bay tide gauge in Hong Kong should be treated with caution. There has been so much reclamation in the last 40 years or so that the surface area of Victoria Harbour has been considerably reduced. However, the amount of water sloshing back and forth has not reduced. It is my contention that the majority of any apparent sea-level rise is as a result of this.

Keith Woodford
April 12, 2017 3:50 am

I recall being in Shenzhen and Guangzhou in 1991. Shenzhen was totally flooded from a typhoon. We traveled from the train station to our flooded hotel using the roads, but in a boat.

Johann Wundersamer
April 12, 2017 3:51 am

“The Chinese government has become an outspoken voice on climate change. President Xi Jinping, who is meeting this week with President Trump, has urged the signatories of the 2015 Paris climate accord to follow through on their pledge, while state-run Chinese media has criticized the Trump administration for “brazenly shirking its responsibility on climate change.””

So state-run Chinese media wish for Trump to administrate Chinese climate change.


Every day brings new insights: – After three days without reading, talk becomes flavorless. A book is like a garden carried in the pocket. A closed mind is …

April 12, 2017 4:00 am

Islands, and larger land masses, can go down as well as up.
It’s called geology. Plate tectonics, hot spots, volcanoes and subsequent submersion by erosion for the Hawaiian hot spot chain, Midway must go, just as Hawaii has risen and will fall back into the ocean. Same chain. Just look at the topology. As with climate change, nobody knows which sea level change is natural and what may be caused by a small change in 0.04% of the atmosphere, the “toxic emission” CO2 that flora and fauna are made from.
A more rational response to natural planetary scale change on every measure is also obvious. Understand, and adapt.
Defend against small scale short term century time scale change. Thames barrage, etc. Move for ice age scale changes. That will be a long cold winter, 60,000 years or so, with land bridges returning to the surface, when our solar orbit goes from near circular to more eliptical and our short inter glacial warm spell rapidy ends – as it has so reliably for many 100,000 year cycles over the last million years. Coming soon with the next Milankovitch cycle. But quite survivable, with predictable changes in temperatures and climate, as before.
Resistance is futile. Natural change is so much more powerful than our puny effects, and temperature changes switch between very survivable limits, even during ice ages, if we migrate to new temperate areas, not arrogantly expect stasis for the short life span of the human race. Commanding the glaciers to retreat ain’t gonna happen. Not unless global warming overcomes them? Either way, there is plenty of time to respond, but resistance is futile.
Sorting out the peaceful mass migration of the human race before the ice comes, with its civilising technologies, and creating new global infrastructure for the c.80,000 year ice age period, is the real challenge the human race faces, IMO.
PS Will this happen? No one in the opinionated elites seems to think altruistically or outside their own lifetime, or prefer the facts of real scientific discipline to unprovable models/forecasts/beliefs. It seems doing the right thing for the human race is a very low priority for the selfish and egotistical people who clamour to be heard, well rewarded, and rule over over the more reasonable, including using assertion, deceit and violence as necessary. Such time scales seem hard for most selfish short lived humans to comprehend, let alone be concerned about, change occuring over timescales well beyond the lifespan of humans, who also don’t uderstand the number of geneations of learning and development our civilisation took to build to where it is now, in the short warm snap between two ice ages. Hunter gatherers for the whole of the warm snaps before?
Only the hard sciences have developed across generations, in the face of denial by the powerful whose irrational beliefs that support their power science denies. And to allow us to advance progressively to understand nature in this interglacial alone, everything else has been for short term gain – territory, wars, elections, bonuses, personal rewards to other’s detriment, etc.
Conclusion?: Not a promising outlook – Neanderthal 2.0?
nb: E&OE. Typos excepted. Trolls ignored. Serious comment on understanding natural change and rational response welcome, factual or technically rational. I hate WordPresses lack of an edit tool.

Reply to  brianrlcatt
April 12, 2017 7:56 am

resistance is futile

Here we go again.
Resistance is *not* futile.
Resistance = E/I
Inductance is Ferrite, not futile.
Stupid Borg

Reply to  TonyL
April 12, 2017 1:34 pm

Yeah, I know it is misspelled. Not my fault.

Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy
April 12, 2017 4:07 am

In India recent floods with devastating effect — human deaths and property losses — associated with the similar scenarios of the example cited in the article. Some of these are: The flood disasters in Uttarkhand in June 2013; Jammu and Kashmir in September 2014; November-December 2015 in Chennai & Nellore; September 2000 in Hyderabad are the manifestations of human greed. Now governments are wrongly putting the blame on global warming. Indian institutions are making even Prime Minister to make false statements like “Chennai floods are associated with the Global Warming.” We must realize the fact that “ignorance is terrible but exaggeration is dangerous.” These are referred along with photos in my latest book “Climate Change and its Impacts: Ground Realities”.

Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

Reply to  Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy
April 12, 2017 3:11 pm

Good points. Over the last 1000 years Chinese governments tried to mitigate floods by building canals that would operate during flood events, thus saving farms and homes. But the powerful who were supposed to operate the gates opening the flood waters into the canals during flood events failed to do so because they had used the canals as highly profitable farm land in the long periods when the canals were dry.
They blamed the gods for the tragedies. We now blame the false gods of global warming.

April 12, 2017 4:09 am

The New York Times seems to be running short of environmental journalists.

Coral Davenport has been tied up working on the climate change driven extinction of Arctic penguins… sure to win a Pulitzer Prize… /Sarc.

Michael Kimmelman. “Who?” you ask. Micheal Kimmelman, the current architecture critic of The New York Times. (But, rest assured, we are told by his NY Times’ CV page, he was the paper’s chief art critic.)

If the existential threat of normal weather and tidal ranges drove the NY Times to assigning Gorebal Warming stories to their architecture critic, what crisis drove them to reassign the art critic to architecture?

Articles like Kimmelman’s are so rife with ridicule-worthy material, that it raises a few questions:

Is there a prerequisite for journalists to be mentally defective?

Are the editors so functionally illiterate, that they can’t recognize bleedingly obvious abject nonsense?

Does the NY Times simply think that their dwindling readership is as dumb as, or dumber than their reporters?

Or is this well- executed Enviromarxist propaganda and part of a coordinated effort to push “the big lie”?

Reply to  David Middleton
April 12, 2017 5:20 am

Well, ya know, many journalists were qualified to became journalists because they would have made really good rocket scientists.

Henning Nielsen
Reply to  David Middleton
April 12, 2017 7:45 am

They write what they hope their readers will like to hear, and that’s what brings in the money. Facts are not of any interest.

Reply to  Henning Nielsen
April 12, 2017 8:50 am

Not to their target audience.

john harmsworth
Reply to  David Middleton
April 12, 2017 10:01 am

It’s all the same. Don’t they cut down old office buildings and examine the width of the rings on the coffee stains to determine their age?

Reply to  David Middleton
April 12, 2017 5:07 pm

The monkeys* have written.

* “The New York Times” is an anagram for “The monkeys write.”

Martin A
April 12, 2017 4:24 am

followed by a sad, but unlikely, anecdote:
“Chen Rongbo, who lived in the city, saw the flood coming. He tried to scramble to safety on the second floor of his house, carrying his 6-year-old granddaughter. He slipped. The flood swept both of them away.”

“Your story is so touching, it sounds just like a lie”
Nat King Cole

Reply to  Martin A
April 12, 2017 5:34 am

Good catch.

Alan Watt, Climate Denialist Level 7
Reply to  Kip Hansen
April 12, 2017 10:49 am

Try this:

I prefer the acapella version by The Acoustix from their album Jazz, Jazz, Jazz, but I can’t find that on Youtube.

April 12, 2017 4:40 am

Why was Micheal Kimmelman’s story news worthy? The repair bill was 100 million USD. That’s much less than for Typhoon Haima last October.

Kudos to Kip Hansen for his most enlightening take down of Kimmelman’s story.

April 12, 2017 4:55 am

“The average sea level around China is at its highest level since 1980, and that’s not great news for our coastal home of over 24 million people which is just barely above sea level.
Yesterday, China’s State Oceanic Administration issued a report which stated that the average sea level along the Chinese coast was 33 mm higher than it was 2015, and 82 mm higher than the average level from 1993 to 2011. The finding continues a trend that has seen sea levels rising along the Chinese coast by an average of 3.2 mm each year. The administration attributes this trend to climate change.”

“A 900-page Chinese climate science report released recently points to sea levels as one of the chief risks to the country, saying some coastal “cities may even face risks of massive disasters that are hard to forecast.”

And Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province, will experience greater losses than any other major global city, the World Bank has warned”

The Chinese appear to have a different opinion on sea level rise and its potential threat…

Reply to  Griff
April 12, 2017 11:42 am

Yeah, a different vision where subsidence is mythical and building on sinking flood plains is the fault of Climate Change. The seal level cannot be rising faster in Canton than Hong Kong.
I suppose sea level rise is relative in that sinking land has the same effect as rising seas. However sinking land is directly caused by LOCAL development or ground water extraction.

Bangkok Thailand is in the same situation. When storm surges arrive the sewers back-up into the streets.

Gary Pearse
Reply to  Griff
April 12, 2017 12:44 pm

Yeah, governments, sigh. Do you expect them to blame themselves for crazy rapid development on a thick layer of mud? You see Griff, we are all in the same bathtub. Don’t you wonder why it’s less than 2mm/yr almost everywhere else?

Alan Watt, Climate Denialist Level 7
Reply to  Kip Hansen
April 12, 2017 2:36 pm


I think you misread the Globe&Mail article, the 10 meter figure is for “narrowing beaches”:

A rising sea has narrowed the main beach by 10 metres and scoured around trees, exposing their roots. Smaller beaches on the fringes of the bay have already vanished.

I saw a lot more than 10 meters of beach go away on the Eastern shore of Lake Michigan in the late 70’s. Beaches are more complicated than tidal guages: in addition to sea level rise and land subsidence you have a third factor of changing currents and sand deposition. Not a new problem, hence the Biblical injunction regarding building one’s house on the sand.

Alan Watt, Climate Denialist Level 7
Reply to  Kip Hansen
April 12, 2017 2:38 pm

Never mind. They did say “six-metre sea level rise”. I saw the figure on beach loss and conflated the two.

John F. Hultquist
Reply to  Kip Hansen
April 12, 2017 9:13 pm

Most of China’s coastal cities are delta cities and subject to subsidence, …

The Mississippi Delta south of New Orleans has about 50,000 feet (15,000 m.) of sediment (old info; maybe you have a better number). Various natural processes (gravity, organic decay) will cause compaction and lowering.
The Pearl River Delta sediments must also be very deep.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“…mammoth port city of 13 million, helicopters and a fleet of 80 boats had to be sent …

80? “Guangzhou historically was a city of canals — almost a Venice”
… and only 80 boats could be used! It is not really relevant to the theme of this post, but I that’s ridiculous.

Reply to  Griff
April 13, 2017 10:59 am


Quote from your comment:

“… Yesterday, China’s State Oceanic Administration issued a report which stated that the average sea level along the Chinese coast was 33 mm higher than it was 2015, and 82 mm higher than the average level from 1993 to 2011. The finding continues a trend that has seen sea levels rising along the Chinese coast by an average of 3.2 mm each year. The administration attributes this trend to climate change.”

Someone is mathematically impaired – “the average sea level along the Chinese coast was 33 mm higher than it was 2015” and “sea levels rising along the Chinese coast by an average of 3.2 mm each year” just don’t go together.

Also, 3.2mm pa is at the high end of what has been reported as normal sea level rise (1.7 mm pa to 3,2 mm pa), so is hardly a serious concern.

As to the 900 page Chinese report, you rad it and two hours later you are hungry again.

April 12, 2017 5:34 am

If you want to see a great example of climate kook desperation check out Gizomodo’s hysterical spew on the new Heartland educational publication. Gizimodo is definitely short on science trained writers apparently.

Reply to  hunter
April 12, 2017 6:30 am

Could not agree more. The article was filled with ad hominem attacks, appeals to authority and straw man arguments. There wasn’t one rational, scientific comment or rebuttal. The author starts off by telling the reader: “I have skimmed the report so you don’t have to…” I am sure the last thing he wants is anyone to read the Heartland Report, which is filled with data and solid scientific arguments. Frankly, I don’t think he even ‘skimmed’ the report, since he mischaracterized what the report said at every turn.

I want to say that the Gizomodo article was a childish read, but that would be unfair to children everywhere.

Reply to  jclarke341
April 12, 2017 8:13 am

Thanks. And the comments were an even worse example of the failure of modern education.

April 12, 2017 6:01 am

“As always, I’ll try to answer any sensible questions” D’oh. I’m outta here.

April 12, 2017 6:13 am

China has had a long history of flooding catastrophes causing massive loss of life, not just in the Pearl River system but also, especially, in the Yangtze River, which is the longest river in Asia. In 1931 a massive flood on the Yangtze killed more than 300,000 people. Since then an extensive system of flood levees and eventually the Three Gorges Dam provided substantial protection from flooding.

As for sea level rising, that’s obviously been going on since the peak of the last glaciation period. There just isn’t that much glacial ice left to melt, just in Antarctica and Greenland, and neither appears to be losing accumulated icepack at the moment. Here in coastal south Florida where I live, our peninsula has varied in width from zero (completely submerged) to over 400 miles.

Continuous climate change is a permanent fact of world geohistory since the onset of the Pleistocene.

Reply to  Duane
April 13, 2017 11:04 am


I read a distribution list from a very prestigious scientific honorary society (never understood why they gave me a membership) and there is a correspondent from Wien (Vienna to the insular) who goes on and on about the Austrian glacial melting, and Switzerland and Norway. While Antarctica and Greenland are the big glaciers of interest, they are not the only glaciers left. Just a nit.

April 12, 2017 6:16 am

The New York times does not need journalists to write the kind of climate change stories they want. The need writers of speculative fiction.

Killer Marmot
April 12, 2017 6:40 am

Almost virtually every river in south China ends at Guangzhou.

Almost virtually? Really, Kip?

Reply to  Kip Hansen
April 12, 2017 8:52 am

Wow, you have been doing this a long time.
Current poetic license numbers are over 100,000.

April 12, 2017 7:06 am

The article raises the usual alarm about High-Rise buildings and factories built in low lying areas, only to get flooded. Is it possible the owners/builders actually knew of the risk all along, and to them it was a wise choice?

It reminds me of the Liberty Ships of WW II. These were cargo ships, quickly and cheaply constructed to meet a desperate wartime need. Some of those who served on them said you could see the hull flex and buckle in a seaway. They always leaked, and you do not even want to talk about the mechanicals. But they worked.
After the war, most were scrapped, a wartime imperative having done it’s job. Today, nobody talks of the disaster of the cheap, not very durable, Liberty Ships.

One can’t help but to get the feeling that much of modern china is the same way. Built quickly and cheaply to fulfill a pressing need, with more lasting and durable solutions to follow on as resources allow.

Killroy Was Here

April 12, 2017 7:13 am

When your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Tom Halla
April 12, 2017 7:37 am

If Canton is anything like south Florida, they could very well have aquifer overpumping issues, and land subsidence.

Reply to  Tom Halla
April 12, 2017 9:03 am

Canton sounds more like New Orleans than south Florida. What subsidence has Canton experienced due to all the added weight of construction. As it is built on a river delta I would suspect it is not insignificant.

Smart Rock
April 12, 2017 7:46 am

This quote (stolen from Wikipedia) shows how Seattle coped with having built a city on what were essentially tidal flats:

While a destructive fire was not unusual for the time, instead of rebuilding the city as it was before, the response of the city leaders was to make two strategic decisions: first, that all new buildings must be of stone or brick, as insurance against a similar disaster in the future; and second to regrade the streets one to two stories higher than the original street grade. Pioneer Square had originally been built mostly on filled-in tidelands and, as a consequence, it often flooded. The new street level also assisted in ensuring that gravity-assisted flush toilets that funneled into Elliott Bay did not back up at high tide.

That wasn’t too much of an intellectual challenge, was it? You’d think that the leaders of a centrally planned economy could have figured it out too.

Smart Rock
Reply to  Kip Hansen
April 12, 2017 9:46 am

You are right Kip. My point was mostly rhetorical. Central planning doesn’t work that well, or even at all in most cases, and blending it with the worst excesses of unfettered capitalism leads to ……… China!

Gary Pearse
Reply to  Kip Hansen
April 12, 2017 1:00 pm

Having lived through the 25yr learning period of Japan’s manufacturing (they have learned and taught us, too, since) I find myself once again buying short lived toasters and other unreliable junk from another learner, China. I once had a toaster my grandmother had for 50yrs or so. Each side was a drop down leaf that caused the toast to slide, turning itself over to cook the other side of the bread. I wish I’d kept it.

Johann Wundersamer
April 12, 2017 7:51 am

No need to ask tourists or other jetsetters for information about ‘Guangzhou flooding in 2014’ – here’s

April 12, 2017 8:07 am

Thanks Lip for another excellent post and for reminding us to dig in a little when these kinds of stories come out. I read this when it was first published. Since I’ve seen AGW blamed so many times before in cases like this, I immediately googled “Canton Subsidence”, (easier to spell). :). Of course, the real story became evident after reading studies and analyses of the local geomorphology.

It is always the same, and not just SLR. Doing some research turns up plausible alternatives to what is habitually and reflexively blamed on global warming. Every time I have one of these experiences it becomes easier to be a skeptic.

Reply to  cerescokid
April 12, 2017 8:09 am

Sorry Kip. Do I proofread much? Geez.

Johann Wundersamer
April 12, 2017 8:08 am

And now it’s up to you for never ending ‘meta studies’.

Jim Steele
April 12, 2017 8:38 am

Great story. Another case of people unwisely building on the flood plains and then blaming climate change when the inevitable flooding exposes their folly

Ryan S.
April 12, 2017 8:56 am

Gee, I wonder why alarmist scum always use subsiding deltas (Bangladesh, New Orleans, Guangzhou) as proof of sea level peril.
Journalism is sure easy nowadays. No research, no effort, just recycle some talking points and always support the “narrative.”

Steve Oregon
April 12, 2017 9:14 am

How is it wrong for the journalist to misrepresent the city and the flooding as having a climate change signal when millions of readers want him to do so?
Is this not the new normal for journalistic standards?
He provides a desired and useful narrative that millions of people believe is vital to advancing the cause of saving the planet from CO2 emissions.
With so much at stake any means that may also be full of crap is entirely acceptable.
There is little doubt the journalist felt proud and was lauded by peers, friends and family.
With this kind of twisted reward and comfort in lying there can be no deterrent to making things up.

Mike Maguire
April 12, 2017 10:33 am

Enjoyed your article Kip! Nice geography lesson here too.

The NY Times writer accomplished his mission to sensationalize. Lots of anecdotal, subjective reporting. With regards to facts, he provides one at the end.
“The government estimated regional losses from last summer’s floods alone at $10 billion. For all of 2016, rainfall in China was 16 percent above average.”
“That was the highest level in recorded history.”

Let’s put on our scientist hats and look at this objectively.

1. 2016 was one year……..of weather. So I went back to look at the data for Hong Kong, going back to 1885:

2. Regarding the heaviest 1 day rain totals: There were none since 2000 in the top 12 yet 4 in the 1880’s in the top 12. No evidence that record daily rainfall totals have increased.

3. Regarding record rain events for 1 hour: There were 5 since 2000 in the top 20 and the highest, in 2008 was 145.5 mm. This is evidence that extreme downpours HAVE increased in Hong Kong.

4. Annual rainfall: There were 6 years since 2000 in the top 20. This is evidence that years with rainfall in the top 20% of all years have increased, though 2016, was 9th(the author states that 2016 was the wettest ever for CHINA). There was no increase or decrease in driest years.

5. We can also look at the heaviest 10 day rain events for each 10 day period from January 1 to December 31st going back to 1886(that exceed 400 mm):

6. Turns out that the decades with the greatest 10 day total precip records of 400 mm+, were the 1990’s-5 and the 2000’s-3.
The 1910’s/1920’s had 2 each. The rest had 1 or 0. This is evidence that synoptic scale, long lasting, high end rain events(related to the monsoon) have increased since 1990.

Of course more rain and heavier rain makes meteorological sense. The slight beneficial warming of the atmosphere, allows it to hold more moisture and slightly warmer oceans help to provide more precipitable water. The greening planet also provides positive feedback in many regions, with increasing transpiration but this would be a minimal contribution for extreme events, more likely to assist drier areas to resist drying out.

Global warming, having decreased the meridional temperature gradient has also decreased other extreme weather measures, like tornadoes, severe storms and extreme cold.
The massive benefits of increasing CO2 to the biosphere and agricultural production far outweigh the negatives.

Humans living along the coasts and in flood prone areas will suffer more negative consequences but much of humanity and almost all of life on this greening planet like it warmer and with more CO2.

Mike Maguire
Reply to  Mike Maguire
April 12, 2017 10:37 am

Scroll up or down from the first link to find the rest of the Hong Kong records.

Mike Maguire
Reply to  Kip Hansen
April 12, 2017 12:15 pm

YW Kip,
The Hong Kong records that were used are just 1 point and should be used with that in mind and we can often find stations that are outliers and don’t represent a region or periods that were misleading.
For instance, daily rainfall records in Hong Kong featured 4 out of the top 12 in the 1880’s, but 2 of those events were from the same event, May 29, 1889 at #12 and May 30, 1889 at #2.

Without a doubt, this would be the record for a 2 day rain total by a wide margin.

Richard Barraclough
Reply to  Kip Hansen
April 16, 2017 1:12 pm

1000 mm! [nearly 400 inches!)

I guess you’re not used to these new-fangled millimetre things, are you?

As far as the original article is concerned – ‘Canton’ is the pronunciation of those 2 Chinese Characters using the Cantonese language, which is spoken in Hong Kong, and the adjacent province. In the good old days of the British Empire, they used the Cantonese version to impose Chinese names on the world for general use. Hence also ‘Peking” for the capital.

Nowadays, the convention is to use the Mandarin pronunciations – hence ‘Guangzhou’, and also Peking is normally referred to as ‘Beijing”.

The characters are the same – just expressed in a different language, so it’s not exactly a name-change.

I also lived in Hong Kong in the 90s, and survived a day of 345mm rain, 180mm of which fell in 2 hours, and that wasn’t even associated with a typhoon – just a stationary trough. A rain-gauge on nearby Lantau Island recorded over 700 mm the same day, thanks to orographic uplift. Mudslides were the big danger, rather than deep flooding, because the islands are relatively small, but quite steep.

Richard Barraclough
Reply to  Kip Hansen
April 17, 2017 1:54 am

Kip – yes I realise – just being rude! It’s still pretty spectacular to see it coming down like that



April 12, 2017 11:52 am

In that Kip Hansen asks for other similar fact-less journalism examples consider this one: by David Shukman, who at least is considered a Science editor by the BBC.

Shukman is all agog at the moral conundrum of how a British research team has discovered a single deep-sea seamount with a tantalum resource equivalent to 1/12 of the global inventory. Shukman goes on to list all the contributions Ta makes to renewable energy, how high-grade the resource is and how preliminary mining tests can not be detected more than 1km away, but hand-wrings about single-celled organisms threaten if the resource was developed. Has Shukman never heard of agriculture? How does he handle the morality of sipping cultivated Chardonnay and nibbling Brie. How does he imagine the world manages to feed 7+ billion people without farm land? Is he unable to comprehend that the area in question is <0.001% of the ocean area? Is he unaware of the species uninvited to live in a modern wheat field?

This I cite as yet another example of the disconnect of the liberal media towards any ability to comprehend scientific reality. Fake news indeed.

Reply to  nvw
April 12, 2017 3:17 pm

Is he aware of the billions of single-celled organisms his immune system destroys on a daily basis, to keep him not-sick?

April 12, 2017 12:12 pm

In late 1970 I was Ch. Mate of a ship tied to a mooring buoy in the river in the middle of Bankok loading rice from barges. My wife and I went ashore one day at lunch time, (wearing wellington boots having been briefed by the Agent,) to find the city was calf deep in water. All the secretary/dolly birds were going to lunch in bare feet with their high heels in one hand and their handbags in the other. The city was working fine. We asked if it was like this often and were told that it was almost always like this at that time of year.
No-one had a problem, the houses didn’t fall down and the taxis were running normally.

April 12, 2017 5:36 pm

An excellent article spoiled somewhat by this last line: “Human folly and greed have been proven, once again, to far outweigh common sense in the rush to modernize and create wealth.” Certainly, development in China has gone ahead at breakneck speed, and mistakes have been made, but to dismiss it as folly and greed is going too far. Hundreds of millions of people have benefited from the Chinese embrace of economic development and free markets. Probably the single biggest uplifting of people out of poverty ever.

April 12, 2017 7:43 pm

“And Guangzhou? Where is that when it gets up in the morning?”

How sad that you feel the need to ask.

Chuck Dolci
April 13, 2017 9:20 am

That aerial photo in the article is amazing. I was in Canton/Guangzhou in 1983. The tallest building was a 5 story tall temple. It is hard to believe the extent of the change in just 33 1/2 years. The weight of all the concrete and steel in those skyscrapers has to have an impact on the level of the ground.

Retired Kit P
Reply to  Chuck Dolci
April 13, 2017 8:59 pm

You have to see it to believe it. Crazy!

Chuck Dolci
Reply to  Retired Kit P
April 15, 2017 4:06 pm

I was back there in 2000. I took my (then) teenage daughter on the high speed rail from Hong Kong to Guangzhou and I was blown away by the extent of the changes. It seems to have grown some since 2000. The pace of development in China is staggering, what we used to see in the U.S. I think the U.S. owns the past, but China owns the future. Too bad.

April 13, 2017 11:16 am

How is it that the “climate science” community will disparage and vilify any article / comment from someone who hasn’t got “climate scientist” credentials, but this article can be written by an architecture editor / art critic and, presumably, be well received. Oh, the double standard.

Retired Kit P
April 13, 2017 9:41 pm

OMG please do not tell me Tequila Coyote’s Cantina in Shenzhen will be under water 200 years after we die. How can we handle this? Grief counseling maybe?

Retired Kit P
April 13, 2017 10:16 pm

“If you have lived in the Hong Kong — Guangzhou area of southern China in the last 50 years or so, I’d love to hear your experiences with rainfall and river flooding there.”

We had worries about flooding when we were in Normandy, Shreveport, La; and the desert Southwest. In that part of China we worried about riding out three typhoons in our high rise apartment.

Retired Kit P
April 14, 2017 9:32 am

If you can not see the forest for the trees, around the Pear River Delta you can not see the floodplain for the high rise apartment buildings.

We lived in a 11 story apartment building in a company compound along the ocean near a new nuke plant under construction.

The Tiashan nuclear site is not on the Pearl River Delta but down the coast. Taishan is about an hour by car. Macau is two hours, Guangzhou is three, Hong Kong 6 hours by car. There are lots of ferries to help get around. Since we worked according to Chinese holidays, we were told not to even think about taking a train on a long weekend.

The best analog I can come up with is San Francisco Bay area from San Jose up to the delta city of Sacramento. Replace all the single family homes with apartment buildings ranging from 4 to 80 stories. Add a hot humid climate with frequent typhoons. Add 50 million people.

So what was the plan during a typhoon. Ride it out in our ocean facing apartment until it got really bad. Then we would get on buses, travel a mountainous road along the ocean, past rice paddies.

I did question this plan. Apparently our apartments are designed for a certain level of typhoon. In one typhoon, before it got really bad, I saw a bus stop shelter fly past our 4th balcony. So apparently when it is not safe to go outside, we will go outside and get on a bus.

We did not our motor home before we lived in China. I will not drive a high profile vehicle in gale force winds. Would I get on bus and take a scenic drive along the mountainous ocean like Big Sur or the Oregon coast. Hell No!!!

About 65 people died in that typhoon but not where we were.

The problem is not melting glaciers.

April 14, 2017 6:28 pm

Excellent article. I don’t suppose Mr Michael Kimmelman will have the gumption to respond.

/Mr Lynn

Yorkson Xu
April 15, 2017 11:25 am

It’s a citizen of Guangzhou here. The old canals, flooded land and marshes around Guangzhou not only create a dangerous circumstance, but also affected the construction of subways. You can hardly find a place in Guangzhou based on very firm ground, and the drainage system even worsen this situation. A renewal is highly needed for the whole drainage and forecasting system.

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