Vol 1, Issue 3 March, 2019

Three questions with...
2016 National Fellow Jeff Goodell

Your Fellow's project, The Water Will Come, is a book about rapidly rising sea levels and their effect on civilization. Could you tell us a little more why you chose to write it?

I had been writing about climate change for a decade or so, but never thought much about sea level rise. Like most people, I thought it was a far-off, distant problem. Then Hurricane Sandy hit New York and New Jersey in 2012. I spent a lot of time walking around New York, looking at the damage caused by Sandy’s nine-foot-high storm surge. I started thinking about how vulnerable modern cities are to flooding, both in the short term (from storms) and the long term (from sea level rise). A few months after Sandy hit, I happened to visit Miami Beach during a particularly high tide—there was three feet of water in the streets on a sunny day! I looked into projections for future sea level rise—they ranged from three to seven or eight feet by the end of the century. It was immediately clear to me that if you took those numbers seriously, Miami was in big trouble.

I wrote an article about the implications of all this for Rolling Stone with the oh-so-subtle title, “Goodbye Miami.” And I began to wonder, what does it mean to lose a great American city? How are people in other cities around the world coping with rising waters and risks of sea level rise? And that’s basically how the book began.

What other projects have been occupying your time since you finished the book? Anything you're particularly excited about?

I’m writing this from the bridge of the Nathaniel B. Palmer, a 307-foot-long icebreaker that has been dispatched to Antarctica for what amounts to an emergency research operation to investigate the risk of collapse of Thwaites glacier. Thwaites is essentially the cork in the wine bottle for the entire West Antarctic ice sheet, which contains enough water to raise global sea levels by ten feet. Of course, I just wrote a book about the consequences of sea level rise. But now I’m interested in going deeper into the world of climate science and learning more about how scientists grapple with and communicate risk. But where this will take me, I have no idea.

You’ve said that humans are not, "wired to make decisions about barely perceptible threats that gradually accelerate over time.” Do you think a worldwide cultural shift that would mitigate climate change's long-term effects is possible—that is to say before unimaginable disasters force us to accept it as a reality?

Well, it’s important to say that every ton of CO2 we avoid dumping into the atmosphere reduces risk of big changes, and the faster we get on with the business of elimination carbon pollution, the less likely we are to end up living through climate catastrophes (I’m using “we” as a crass short-hand for people of the industrialized world). But we are not going to “fix” climate change. It’s way too late for that. What we have before us now are different choices, different paths, different dilemmas: are we going to get serious about cutting carbon pollution to reduce the risk of climate catastrophe—or just keep burning fossil fuels until they are gone and plunge into climate hell? What do the rich, who largely caused the problem of climate change, owe the poor, who will be most impacted by climate change? I'm enough of an optimist to believe we'll figure this out. But I'm also enough of a realist to believe there's a lot of economic chaos and human suffering in our future.

Hot Off The Press

People's Republic of Desire

People's Republic of Desire fascinates and repels in equal measure with a sadly illuminating look at the intersection between technology and our relationship with celebrity.

(The film is available to stream for free on PBS until March 11th)

By: Hao Wu, Class of 2015

Two Cents

Unexpected expenses in our fellows' work

1: Some trips and interviews will be "wasted"—sometimes you have to nose out a whole story only to realize that it takes you elsewhere, leaving that story in the background as pure research and out of the book. — Sara Hendren, Class of 2018

2: Translators. — Rachel Aviv, Class of 2019

3: I’m trying to stow away some money to pay for fact-checking my book. As careful and accurate as I try to be, I feel like factchecking is not only a safeguard against my own human fallibility but also of service to anyone who invests both time and money into this work. — Melissa Segura, Class of 2019

Two Cents

Ted Johnson wrote for Politico about the intersection of politics and racism.

Karen Levy co-published an article in the American Journal of Bioethcis about the ethics of surveillance in nursing home rooms.

Chase Purdy wrote for Quartz about how cell-cultured meat will/won't help fight climate change.

Suki Kim appeared on BBC's The Conversation discussing women working undercover.

Two Cents
Hot Off The Press

2 New America events we recommend you check out. Now.



Gender Equality at Work: The Perils and Promise of AI and Automation

An expert panel on the role of automation in gender equality in the workforce, hosted in New York by the New America Better Life Lab. Learn More


21st Century Proxy Warfare

A discussion with New America's International Security Program on today’s proxy warfare, the potential for escalation, and new analytical and policy frames. Learn More

Hot Off The Press

Contemplating thermonuclear war during the first Reagan administration helps me sleep at night in 2018. — Scott Silverstone, Class of 2016

Learn More

The Arctic is defined by how our imaginations think of it, this book takes a look at one of the greatest Arctic disasters in history, the search for the Northwest Passage and turns it back on us to understand that true power rests with nature, not human beings. — Louie Palu, Class of 2013

Learn More

Fantastic memoir on interracial adoption, whiteness, and identity.
Sarah J. Jackson, Class of 2019

Learn More

Free Swag

Fill out this tiny form for a chance to win one of five copies of Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe, Class of 2017!

(Please submit by COB Monday, March 11 to be considered)

Get swag!

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