Jeff Goodell is an author and contributing editor to Rolling Stone magazine. Steeped in years of meticulous research, Goodell’s latest book, “The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Reshaping of the Civilized World,” is a sobering, immersive look at the impact of our rapidly changing planet on our cities.
As sea-level rise becomes an urgent priority for many of the world’s coastal cities, Goodell’s vital perspective reveals what urban planners, builders and policy experts can do to combat environmental disaster—and the scope of what is at stake. Considering the impact of global sea rise on long-term design and engineering, Goodell’s work is indispensable and relevant.
Jeff will speak during 2018 Environmental Awareness Week in our Buffalo office. We sat down with him to ask a few questions in anticipation of his talk.
On your web bio, you have this quote: “The greatest danger we face is not technological hubris, but human apathy.” Can you elaborate on this? What in your findings drove you to this conclusion?
We are all now faced with the challenges of climate change, but for the most part, we know how to combat it. It doesn’t require inventing gamma ray guns to fight alien invaders – we have all the technology we need. We know how to create forms of energy that produce zero carbon dioxide and we also know how to deal with rising seas and wildfires. We just need the political will and awareness to implement what we already know.
What do you plan to focus on in your presentation for Environmental Awareness Week?
I want to focus on the impacts of climate change and argue not only that it’s real, but that it is happening now. To put it as a theater analogy, when the curtain goes up and the production begins, the director says, “you’re in the river now.” Whatever comes along, you must deal with it. We’re in the river now with climate change. It’s happening faster than a lot of us understand and we must prepare for those changes.
We also can’t do things the way we did before because our world is changing so quickly. We must take this awareness of our changed world into account when we build buildings and infrastructure or else they will be hugely at risk. It’s about embracing the future in an intelligent way.
What was the most striking thing you discovered in your research and reporting your new book?
The most striking thing was the scale of the risk we face. The idea of the book started the day after Hurricane Sandy; I was thinking about the implications of nine feet of water flooding lower Manhattan. A scientist said to me you should think about this event as a dress rehearsal for sea-level rise. Imagine that nine feet of water coming in and never going out. And then he suggested to also think about that idea in other major coastal areas like Miami.
So, I went down to Miami and saw how the water was already coming up several feet into some low-level areas of the city. Thinking about the future, with even modest predictions of sea level rise, the threat to cities like Miami and other coastal places around the world is immense. If they are going to survive, coastal cities like Miami will have to be entirely re-imagined and rebuilt in the coming decades. Politically, economically, and culturally, that is a huge undertaking.
What has been the most interesting interview that you have done?
Going to Alaska to interview President Obama was very memorable and remarkable. What was most interesting to me about speaking with him was the depth of his knowledge and awareness about what’s going on.
I was not an Obama “groupie” – I wrote quite critically on some of his policies especially in his first term and I was prepared to have a debate with him. We ended up spending two hours talking and he didn’t know any of the questions I was going to ask him ahead of time.
It was remarkable to hear the president talk about the real implications the world faces from climate change. I have a pretty good b.s. detector for people who just read briefing notes about climate change, but President Obama really understood what was going on. It was a surreal event and very memorable for me.
Are any good developments you have seen to combat climate change?
Even after writing my latest book about sea level rise, I have a lot of optimism. We are in a moment of change and if we have the opportunity to bring creative solutions to these new challenges. Especially in the design profession, I think it’s an exciting time. Even though these changes come with a lot of devastation and loss, there’s also going to be a lot of creativity and new-age thinking in the way we live. The more of this model we embrace, the better off we will be.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
With the free time I have, I enjoy everything outdoors. Scuba diving, hiking, skiing, bike riding, etc. I also spend all the time I can hanging out with my three kids. It’s their future, after all, that I’m writing about when I write about climate change.