On Saturday, despite temperatures more than 20 degrees below normal and nearly three inches of rain, marchers who worry about global warming and drought slouched through the Plaza and then into Unity Temple.
One young man held a sign reading, “Maybe Trump will accept climate change when Mar-A-Lago is underwater.” According to KCUR, he believes “Kansas Citians need to do everything they can to stop Donald Trump from harming the environment.” His mother held a sign with the hashtag, “Dump TrumpPutin.”
I would ask the mother and son to be forgiving of this reporter who is less anxious about rising sea levels than they are. Let me explain. A few years ago my brother-in-law and I were walking through a semi-restored arcade that vaults over the boardwalk in Asbury Park, New Jersey.
Along its walls was a series of beach photos from a century or so ago. Although the photos had been taken in different years, it was apparent to both of us that virtually every photo showed a beach sufficiently smaller than the one that spread in front of us in 2013. The boardwalk had not been pushed back to accommodate a rising sea. No, the sea had simply not risen.
Following that experience, I made a point of comparing the beaches I visited with images of those beaches in the past. A year ago, I visited Daytona Beach. As a twelve-year old in 1960, I drove with my family to see my grandmother in Florida, and we stopped in Daytona. It is a memorable beach in that cars are allowed to drive on it. In 2015, the beach looked just as I recalled. To test my memory, I checked Google images. I was not imagining things.
My grandmother lived in a town on Florida’s west coast called Madeira Beach. At the time it consisted mostly of single-family units and small motels. The beach itself I remember as being so narrow and mucky we drove each day down to St. Pete’s Beach to swim. Family photos confirm the same.
In September I drove through Madeira Beach looking for my grandmother’s house. What I found instead was a beachfront lined with large hotels and condos all fronted by an ample beach of white sand. Investors in these properties don’t appear to be overly worried about rising sea levels.
Earlier this year, I had the occasion to visit Santa Monica, a California town with broad, sandy beaches and exquisite environmental sensitivity. I have little personal history with the area, but photographs show no noticeable change in beach size over time. When I googled “Santa Monica” “beach” “problem,” I saw many articles about pollution, homelessness, traffic and water quality, but not even the local Greens seem concerned about a shrinking beach.
Like the climate, beaches constantly change. They are subject to tides and storms and erosion. Some, I suspect, are a bit smaller than they once were. Some are larger. Unlike the climate, however, one can photograph a beach, and people have been doing so routinely for more than a century. If there were a case to be made for rising sea levels, protestors could better convince Trump and the rest of us through hard photographic evidence than through silly marches on a cold rainy day.