Mined from the notebooks, Friday, May 18, 2018. Posted Sunday morning, August 26.
A stretch of beach in Alabama’s Gulf State Park. The ocean is in the process of breaking those rocks into pieces. In only a few millennia they’ll be gone. In the meantime, according to Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks, all the rocks and pebbles falling into the water, not climate change, are causing sea levels around the globe to rise. Photo courtesy of Alabama State Parks.
[Editor’s note: The poem by Mary Oliver I posted yesterday made me long to be on Cape Cod. Longing to be on the Cape reminded me I’ve had this post sitting in my notebook since May. About time I dug it out of there. Republicans demonstrating they have rocks in their heads and science and facts carry no weight with them never gets old.]
Sometimes I think voters elect these dopes to Congress and send them to Washington just to get them out of their districts…
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) questioned [Patrick Duffy, president of the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts and former senior adviser to the U.S. Global Change Research Program] on the factors that contribute to sea-level rise, pointing out that land subsidence plays a role, as well as human activity.
Brooks then said that erosion plays a significant role in sea-level rise, which is not an idea embraced by mainstream climate researchers. He said the California coastline and the White Cliffs of Dover tumble into the sea every year, and that contributes to sea-level rise. He also said that silt washing into the ocean from the world's major rivers, including the Mississippi, the Amazon and the Nile, is contributing to sea-level rise.
"Every time you have that soil or rock or whatever it is that is deposited into the seas, that forces the sea levels to rise, because now you have less space in those oceans, because the bottom is moving up," Brooks said.
Brooks is from Alabama, which has a seacoast. Sixty miles of one along the Gulf of Mexico. He works in Washington. Chesapeake Bay isn't that far away. Any time he wants he can go take a look at the ocean and count the rocks falling in…
He can also see all the stuff the ocean throws up on the beaches every minute…
More people go swimming in the ocean than did when he was a kid. That raises ocean levels. But there are fewer ocean liners and fishing boats. That lowers it doesn't it?
And there are fewer fish, fewer whales…
Know what there is more of? Plastic! Giant floating islands of it. Maybe Brooks can sponsor legislation to clean that up.
Rocks and dirt have been falling into the oceans since God separated the sea from the land or, as geologists put it, a few billion years, ever since there were rocks and dirt and oceans. There’s a pile of rocks and dirt sticking out into the Atlantic that’s one of my favorite places on earth. Twenty thousand years ago---a blip in time as geologists measure time---Cape Cod didn’t exist. There was nothing there but water. Glaciers pushed rocks and dirt out there and dropped more when they receded. In a few thousand years, the ocean itself will have moved all those rocks and all that dirt west and south and Cape Cod will be gone.
This work is already underway. Has been underway from the beginning. Storms and currents eat away at the beaches on the Lower Cape minute by minute, second by second. In the 1840s, Henry David Thoreau walked along the ocean side of the Cape from Eastham to Provincetown. Back in college a couple of friends and I set out to walk in Thoreau’s footsteps. We couldn’t. The beach he walked is long gone. His path is far out to sea. The Mannion family’s once favorite beach had been steadily and visibly shrinking since we first took the guys there twenty odd years ago. In March a storm wiped the remainder away. The waves now come right up to the parking lot. All the rocks and dirt that made up Nauset Beach in Orleans have been carried by the ocean twelve miles down to Chatham where, for the time being, they’re stuck on their way around the Cape’s elbow and into Nantucket Sound, building and expanding our new favorite beach. Lighthouse Beach barely existed as a beach when Mrs M honeymooned on the Cape. Over the thirty years since, it has been growing and growing. At the same time it has been shrinking and shrinking.
Sea levels are rising because WATER running into it from melting ice caps in the Arctic, Antarctica, Greenland and Alaska. That's visible! Brooks can watch it happening on YouTube if he doesn’t want to leave his office to take a look.
Brooks made his case for the oceans filling up with rocks in his questioning of Duffy, who, let me repeat, is president of the Woods Hole Research Center in Falmouth, Massachusetts and former senior adviser to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, when was testifying before the House Science, Space and Technology Committee the other day [May 16, 2018]. Brooks also argued that contrary to, well, science, the Antarctic ice sheet isn’t shrinking and is actually growing.
Duffy begged to differ.
"We have satellite records clearly documenting a shrinkage of the Antarctic ice sheet and an acceleration of that shrinkage," Duffy said.
Brooks begged to differ from Duffy’s differing.
"I'm sorry, but I don't know where you're getting your information, but the data I have seen suggests — " Brooks said.
Duffy answered: "The National Snow and Ice Data Center and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration."
Brooks thought he could top that.
"Well, I've got a NASA base in my district, and apparently, they're telling you one thing and me a different thing," Brooks said.
The NASA base in Brooks’ district is the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. It’s a pretty important place, being the U.S. government's civilian rocketry and spacecraft propulsion research center. Which means that most of the scientists working there are literally rocket scientists. That’s what they do. Put rockets into space. That’s the focus of their research. Their interest in climate change is in how it affects putting rockets in space. They’re busy with that. They leave the study of climate change to climatologists and rely on their research in order to do theirs. The other experts who work at Marshall are engineers. Engineers tend to be more conservative than scientists, but they’ve also got other things on their plates than keeping up with the research on climate change. I don’t know who the “they” whose word on climate change Brooks thinks counters NASA’s top climatologists then. My guess they’re people Brooks has lunch with on his routine tours of the base on trips home to shore up his support among his voters and raise money for re-election bids. And I’d bet those people are likely administrators rather than working scientists. Brooks is privileging personal anecdotal evidence of the moment over decades of research conducted by hundreds of experts in the field.
Brooks is an educated man. He went to Duke, got his law degree from the University of Alabama. Some parts of his brain must function. You got to wonder then. Does Exxon pay him to be this big a blockhead? Or is it just that he’s a Republican? Is he so stubbornly ideological that he’ll willingly make a jackass out of himself before he’ll admit the Democrats, hippies, tree huggers, and pointy-headed intellectuals and college professors and scientists might be right?
Like I said, this process---rocks and sand falling into the ocean, beaches disappearing, salt marshes drowning, islands sinking and sandbars washing away---has been going on on Cape Cod for millennia. The same process has been going on for millions of years all over the globe, wherever sea meets land. Coastlines have been constantly reshaped. Areas along those coasts that were once high and dry land have been drowned and areas that were once underwater are far inland. Seas rise and fall. But the process had been slow. Centuries passed during which seafarers could rely on the same charts and maps. But suddenly Boston, New York, and Miami are threatened with imminent submerging. They could disappear underwater within the lifetimes of half the human beings alive today. Mo Brooks is sixty-four so odds are he won’t live to see it. But his children probably will and his grandchildren certainly will. Rocks and dirt falling into the ocean won’t have caused it.
You should read all of Scott Waldman’s article, “Republican lawmaker: Rocks tumbling into ocean causing sea level rise”, in SCIENCE. Warning: Contains several other Republican lawmakers giving evidence they have rocks in their heads too.
Updated in dismay, Sunday afternoon.
Well, this comment from Mannionville stalwart Mark P isn't reassuring:
I worked in Huntsville for nearly 30 years. I can assure you that there are quite a few engineers and scientists (of one sort or another, but definitely not climatologists) who would probably agree with Brooks. They are (probably) pretty good at what they do, but they have a gigantic blind spot that they fill with republican propaganda. I heard one otherwise intelligent and competent computer engineer tell someone that they could get good information from answers in Genesis. That's the kind of "science" they believe in when it's not in their own fields.