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 Mike Ives. “Who?” you ask. Mike Ives, a freelance (?) correspondent out of Hong Kong who “started out as a staff writer for Seven Days, an alternative weekly newspaper in Vermont” and has subsequently written for The Economist, the AP, and the NY Times. Ives’ piece appears on
April 7 11 August, 2017 in the WORLD/Asia Pacific section and bears the title “North Korea Aside, Guam Faces Another Threat: Climate Change”.
The piece starts with the news:
“HONG KONG — The island of Guam made rare headlines this week when North Korea, responding to blustery language from President Trump, threatened to fire four ballistic missiles into waters near the American territory’s shores. Some Guam residents told reporters that they worried what might happen if North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, were actually to follow through.”
“Scientists in Guam, however, say they have at least one other major threat in mind: climate change.”
“We know that it’s serious,” said Austin J. Shelton III, a marine biologist and the executive director of the Center for Island Sustainability at the University of Guam. “Some of the impacts are here, and a lot more are coming.”
And what are these impacts that have already arrived? And what are the problems that are coming?
That is not clear at all. The NY Times doesn’t actually say, but it makes a lot of vague references to possible and potential, and rather universally potential, problems.
Photo captions under images of Guam’s tourist hot spots, reef snorkeling and a marine park, tell us:
“Visitors to the Fish Eye Marine Park in Guam on Friday. Threats by North Korea against the Pacific island do not appear to have hurt tourism, but scientists are warning that the industry could be in greater peril from climate change.”
“One concern is how damage to coral reefs could affect a $1.4 billion tourism sector that accounts for 60 percent of Guam’s annual business revenue and nearly a third of its nonfederal employment.”
Our intrepid reporter, reporting from Hong Kong, explains:
“A 2007 study by the University of Guam Marine Laboratory estimated the economic value of Guam’s coral reefs to be $2 million per square kilometer, or 0.4 square mile, and nearly $15 million per square kilometer at a 2,153-foot area [sic] known for its diving and snorkeling sites. It said that reefs were valuable not only as tourist attractions, but also because they functioned as natural breakwaters that absorbed wave energy and protected against beach loss and coastal erosion.”
“The reefs already experience periodic bleaching, and they could become more vulnerable because many have been overfished and can no longer support enough of the algae that helps reef ecosystems recover from bleaching, said Peter Houk, a coral reef specialist at the marine laboratory.”
All coral reefs already experience periodic bleaching — there have been major bleaching events in Guam of shallow-water reefs and those reefs exposed to the air at low-tide, particularly during the recent El Nino. However, the actual major threats to the reefs of Guam are excessive tourism and the unavoidable damages from too much- too close, human interaction with the reef environment, and the ubiquitous, ever-present, long-term damage from over-fishing by local fishermen, who have been forced to support not only the indigenous population estimated at 20,000 at the end of WWII but an additional 150,000 people, not counting the tourists….
“Guam welcomed 132,952 visitors in July 2017, an 8.1% increase when compared to the previous year. July 2017 surpassed the top record held in 1997 to become the best July in Guam’s tourism history.”
The NY Times goes on to wave its hands around saying:
“A 2012 study by the American Security Project, a research group in Washington, said that Guam’s military installations were among the five most vulnerable American ones worldwide to coastal erosion, extreme weather, rising sea levels and other projected climate change impacts.”
What the report really said was this:
“3. Guam: The military installation on the island of Guam is one of the most strategically important US bases in the Western Pacific Ocean. Military presence on Guam allows the US access to China and the rest of East Asia by air and sea to the West and Hawaii and North America to the East. It has a protected harbor and sufficient land for airports and military installations. It is also the largest of the Mariana Islands, an archipelago in Micronesia.
Because Guam is exposed in the open ocean, it is susceptible to extreme storms, sea-level rise and erosion. If the ocean rises significantly, U.S. strategic interests on the island of Guam will be at risk.”
Let’s just look at the idea of Guam being “at risk” to rising sea levels. Guam is home to an American Naval Base — naval bases must needs be nominally at sea level — that’s where the ships sit, atop the sea at wharves and docks and at anchorages. We have to assume that since this island is in the tropical Pacific, and in the path of hurricanes, that the Navy has built docks adequately above Mean High High Water and planned for hurricane storm surge (and if not, at least they were warned by this report 5 years ago).
What about the rest of the island?
Clicking should bring up the map in a zoom-able image. This is a mountainous island, surrounded at almost all points by high cliffs and steep mountain slopes, barring the peninsula on the West that hosts the naval and air bases. A second, more colorful map improves the picture:
Unless the seas rise more than more than 50 feet, only the current beaches would be affected. Sea Level Rise is not an issue for Guam, the tourist industry will move slowly to higher ground as the beaches move inland, as always. All ocean shore lines are at risk from erosion, but no more so today than at any other time.
I thought to include images from NOAA’a Sea Level Rise Viewer but pushing the sea level up six feet (its maximum) showed no appreciable effect. Use the link to try it yourself…move the slider up to six feet and down to 1 foot or current MHHW (Mean High High Water).
So much for sea level rise and “coastal erosion” — the sea can beat on those cliffs for a thousand years and go away unsatisfied.
If the storms come, and they will, of course, then there will be damage to the beaches and the tourist infrastructure as always — this is a tropical island.
There remains the threat of a Nuclear Attack initiated by the psychotic government of North Korea.
Possibly more likely than either the threat of nuclear annihilation or climate change doom is a threat we are warned of in 2010:
“Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) is raising some eyebrows with a comment he made about the U.S. territory of Guam during a House Armed Services Committee hearing last Thursday.
In a discussion regarding a planned military buildup on the Pacific island [which would have involved the addition of 8,000 more Marines to based on the island], Johnson expressed some concerns about the plans to Adm. Robert Willard, head of the U.S. Pacific fleet.
“My fear is that the whole island will become so overly populated that it will tip over and capsize,” Johnson said.
Admiral Willard paused and replied, “We don’t anticipate that.” “
The Bottom Line:
Guam is a smallish tropical island (210 square miles, 540 km2), nominally occupied by the US Federal government, whose economy depends almost entirely on the presence, and expansion, of US Military bases there.
A burgeoning tourist industry supplies 30% of the non-governmental employment and is focused on tropical-island tourist attractions — beaches, reefs, etc.
When the tourist business is on full swing, the island must support a total of nearly 300,000 people — up from the 20,000 natives on the island in 1945.
The major threats to Guam are its successes: Development of and by the US Military Bases with their massive support requirements, the tourist industry and the incumbent population increases which place enormous demands on the local environment.
As is true of all tropical islands, weather is a continuing concern and when weather acts up, such as major typhoons, it is always a threat. The cure to this threat is to build-in societal and structural resilience.
Climate change is no more threat in Guam today than it has ever been.
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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. Even the threat of Nuclear War did not deter the NY Times which has an editorially enforced climate change narrative — in this story, the evidence for a major threat from Climate Change is entirely lacking (not even mentioned, really) and minor weather threats, always extant, are grossly exaggerated.
Those of you who have visited Guam or served there in the military or other government service are invited to weigh in with your thoughts on climate change threats to Guam.
As always, I’ll try to answer any sensible questions — I don’t respond to Climate Warriors, regardless of which side they are on.
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