The 2015/16 El Niño event was the third strongest on record. While sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific—where El Niño is born—normalize, it is easy to consider this global weather event dead. In fact, the most enduring effects of El Niño are just beginning. In February of 2016, I began reporting on El Niño’s various climatic aftershocks as they pulsed around the world, and how they are exacerbating already dire environmental emergencies. For those who live in areas being inundated by higher and higher tides, or where lakes and rivers have gone dry from relentless drought, climate change is not an opinion, an idea, or a choice. It is not an option. It is happening right now.
In the United States, “climate change” has become a polarizing, politicized topic. In December of last year, Senator Ted Cruz, chairman of the Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, convened a hearing to challenge the idea of anthropogenic climate change, even though ninety-nine percent of scientists around the world agree that humans are accelerating an already warming planet. Men and women of privilege spoke for hours about climate change alarmists. At one point, Senator Cruz asserted that the current computer models used to understand global climate trends “are profoundly wrong…and inconsistent with the evidence and the data.”
I live on a barrier island in southern New Jersey. Each year, regular tidal flooding gets worse. This winter alone, I have seen my street submerged by nearly a foot of water too many times to count. And yet, I often hear neighbors discussing the validity of this thing called climate change. So I started wondering: how does the rest of the world talk about climate change? Are there communities divided between believers and deniers? We know what the United States is, or isn’t, doing to prepare its shores for sea level rise and drought and extreme weather—but what are the littoral regions of the rest of the world doing, or not doing?
As an avid traveler and journalist whose career has been built by reporting on the ocean and the communities and cultures it nourishes, I decided the best way to find out what the rest of the world is saying about climate change was to ask. For the next several months, you can find my dispatches here on my website, along with articles I will be publishing along the way. My goal is simple: to tell the stories of our disappearing shores.