The Waters: The Melting North

Jeff Goodell and Mark Serreze in Conversation with Marcus Moench


This session at the ZEE JLF at Boulder brought together three authors – Jeff Goodell, Mark Serreze and Marcus Moench – whose writing and work have brought them to the cutting-edge of climate change. A short discussion on Mark Serreze’s The Brave New Arctic opened the discussion.

It took many years to see what was happening, said Serreze; he never thought that this would concern him. Then the evidence became too overwhelming.

He described camping on an icecap for three months while working as a researcher for a famous climate scientist in 1982: ‘That icecap does not exist anymore. That made climate change personal to me.’

Goodell had a different reason. He was in New York during Hurricane Sandy when 9 feet of water went through the streets of Manhattan. Talking to an engineer about this, he was told that this was only ‘a dress rehearsal for sea-level rise’. The engineer asked Goodell to look at Miami.

Jeff Goodell eventually took his advice and went to Miami, which led to his Rolling Stone article called ‘Goodbye Miami’. ‘I began to ask questions. What are the implications worldwide? I went travelling and looking at other places where sea-level change is going to have an impact. That’s how my book came about.’

According to Goodell, the challenge he had in writing his book was connecting the dots between the melting north and the condominium-owners on South Beach and the middle-class labourer in Hialeah.

Serreze said, ‘Despite all the work that we think we’re doing in conferences like these, we’re failing in the effort to stop climate change.’

Goodell added, ‘Ten feet of sea-level rise is baked into the cake, even if we stop using fossil fuels tomorrow.’

Moench asked, ‘Should we have hope? How can we avoid being too pessimistic given that the challenges are not simple but social, political and economic?’

The discussion then moved from practical to theoretical perspectives. In discussing the smaller things that we do to conserve water and prevent waste, Moench lamented them as but a ‘drop in the bucket’.

‘We have no choice but to be optimistic about these techniques for addressing the larger problem, knowing that the challenges will persist until more substantial changes are made to how we live, build, and think about everything.’

Serreze said, ‘The thing that makes climate change so hard to figure out is that everything is connected to everything. That is the problem.’

Calling it a race against time, Goodell argued that social change is working against the problem of climate change. ‘Rich Western countries are the cause of the global problem.’ He described the Marshall Islands and how they were going to be devastated by sea-level change, even though they were a small country and did not pollute like Detroit or San Francisco. ‘Climate change is going to displace people, at a time when we are not accommodating to people on the move.’

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