Trump to mayor of sinking island: Don't worry about sea level rise.

A young resident jumps off a piling at the gas dock in Tangier, Virginia on May 17, 2017.
Image: AP/REX/Shutterstock

Sea level rise caused by global warming is threatening the existence of the tiny community of Tangier Island, Virginia, located in Chesapeake Bay. 

Yet a CNN report on the town’s plight appears to have prompted President Donald Trump to call the town’s mayor to assure him that his town will not succumb to rising seas by the middle of this century, despite what scientists predict. 

Instead, Trump told mayor James “Ooker” Eskridge in a phone call on Monday that residents of Tangier Island have nothing to fear when it comes to rising sea levels. 

“He said we shouldn’t worry about rising sea levels,” Eskridge told The Washington Post. “He said that ‘your island has been there for hundreds of years, and I believe your island will be there for hundreds more.’”

Eskridge, for his part, does not believe that the town’s flooding issues are a result of global warming, according to the Post’s interview with him.  

Map of Tangier Island, Virginia, with 5 feet of sea level rise.

Map of Tangier Island, Virginia, with 5 feet of sea level rise.

Image: climate central

“Like the president, I’m not concerned about sea level rise,” he said. “I’m on the water daily, and I just don’t see it.”

Eskridge blames erosion for his town’s flooding problems, though increased erosion is one result of rising sea levels. 

Even as the town slips into the sea, with flooding now becoming a regular part of living on the island, residents nonetheless are mainly supporters of the president. According to the Post, Trump received 87 percent of the vote on the island.

Yet whether the mayor sees it or not, the ocean is rising due to warming waters and melting land-based ice sheets and glaciers caused in large part by human emissions of greenhouse gasses. 

Nature doesn’t care whether one believes in a phenomenon in order for it to take place. 

According to Climate Central, a research and journalism organization, in Tangier Island, sea level has risen by 9 inches in the past 34 years alone. Climate Central scientists project a middle-range scenario (i.e. not worst case) in which 5.1 feet of increase would occur there by 2100. 

Since sea level rise raises the floor that waves and storm surges launch from, it makes coastal floods more severe and frequent. 

The odds of damaging floods in Tangier, for example, are projected to skyrocket during the next few decades. The highest flood on record in Tangier is 4.1 feet, set in 2006, Climate Central found. Yet between now and 2030, there will be a 35 percent risk of a potentially catastrophic 5-foot flood, Climate Central found, but this would rise to a 100 percent likelihood by 2100.

Tangier Island mayor James "Ooker" Eskridge, on his boat on May 17, 2017.

Tangier Island mayor James “Ooker” Eskridge, on his boat on May 17, 2017.

Image: AP/REX/Shutterstock

A 2015 study from the Army Corps of Engineers projected that the Tangier Islands may be completely underwater if sea level rise continues apace for the next century, and that Tangier Island, which is the only populated island in the chain, may need to be evacuated by the middle of this century. 

That study, published in Nature Scientific Reports, found that since 1850, the combination of sinking land and rising seas has caused 67 percent of the island’s landmass to be lost. 

The mayor is hoping that Trump will push through funding for a sea wall or other infrastructure to better protect the town from storm surge flooding during storms. 

However, even if that happens, Trump’s environmental policies could seal the town’s fate underneath the waves. 

Trump’s June 1 announcement that he will pull the U.S. out of the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change, in which nearly all countries of the world committed to reducing global warming pollutants, raises the possibility that countries won’t cut emissions as much as they would have if the U.S. had continued to lead on this issue. 

In addition, the Trump administration is rolling back numerous regulations that would cut emissions of carbon dioxide and methane, which are two of the main global warming gases responsible for global warming. In particular, the Environmental Protection Agency has halted its Clean Power Plan, which was aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions from coal-burning power plants.

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