Some men fiddle while Rome burns while others laugh as it drowns. Mitt Romney thinks all this talk of rising sea levels is a joke, as he allowed in his acceptance speech last summer when he poked fun at President Obama for calling for greater efforts to combat climate change and the rising sea levels that go with it.
"President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet," a smirking Romney mocked. "My promise is to help you and your family."
Add one more statement to the lengthening list of do-overs Romney no doubt wishes he could have back, along with his idiotic proposal to privitize FEMA or abandon its functions back to the states, now that Hurricane Sandy has swallowed New York City along with much of the East Coast with its record low pressure this far north this late in the storm season.
To the New Republic's Timothy Noah, Romney's "sneering reference" to Obama's plea for more responsible stewardship of the planet perfectly encapsulated "the spinelessness" of Romney's presidential candidacy.
Romney's "clear pander to the flat-earthers who believe climate change is a hoax," is a gesture whose nihilism Noah finds "contemptible."
Yet, while politicians like Mitt Romney pander to the ignorant and the greedy, transportation agencies like Romney's own Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport) have already begun incorporating the realities of global warming into their current and future plans.
Twenty years ago, former Massport CEO Tom Kinton said he got his first taste of possible things to come when he looked out his window in the Old Tower at Boston's Logan International Airport and saw what appeared to be thick fog rolling in off the horizon. It wasn't fog at all, but water, crashing over Deer Island in Boston Harbor and then flooding Logan's airfield - the first time Kinton had ever seen water over-topping Logan's protective seawall.
The date was October 31, 1991 and what Kinton was witnessing were the consequences of the so-called "No-Name" Perfect Storm and its five-foot storm surge.
Today, scientists tell us that this once-in-a-hundred year phenomenon could become a regular event as global warming leads to a rise in the earth's sea level. Romney can laugh, but airport and port operators can't afford to take the chance that the threat of rising sea levels is a hoax.
Airports Council International, the trade association that represents airports worldwide, has an environmental standing committee devoted to "Planning Adaptation to Climate Change."
You can better appreciate ACI's focus if you consider there are 34 airports in Europe alone that have already been identified as being at-risk from the increased impacts of storm surges and local flooding.
These large and relatively flat airfield areas make these facilities more difficult to protect from sea level rise impacts, ACI reports. Once water levels reach the airfield perimeter, even minor storm events can quickly encroach upon airside and landside infrastructure.
Climate change is associated with changing wind patterns, which is a big deal for airports that orient their runways so that planes can land and take off in the same direction as prevailing winds. Also, since aircraft cruise to save time and fuel using predictable wind patterns, as global warming increases and the jet stream moves further north, optimum trajectories for aircraft traversing the earth will have to change as well.
To get a sense of the seriousness with which airports are looking at the possible ramifications of rising global temperatures, consider that airports are even factoring in the impact rising temperatures could have on the reduced lift of aircraft.
Higher air temperatures means lower air pressure, which means that departing aircraft need more thrust to take off. That means airports need to invest in longer runways or suffer the economic costs of fewer passengers per flight and reduced payloads -- and profits.
Because departing aircraft need greater thrust, this also has a ripple effect on noise and CO2 emissions, which could also result in regulations for reduced aircraft weight and therefore capacity.
The reality is that airport operators know they are not likely to grow their industry if they do not take climate change seriously and work on broad strategies for emissions reduction.
It's true that the effects of global warming may be far off. But "far off" is a relative term. While 30 or 40 years may seem like a long way down the road to some, for an agency like Massport that signs 99-year leases and builds infrastructure expected to last at least that long, 40 years is right around the corner.
And so for cities along the coasts there is a growing sense of urgency. Two years ago, the Boston Harbor Association held a forum on global warming and sea level rise that drew more than 400 participants and numerous government agencies, including Massport.
Among the participants were those from the state's office of Coastal Zone Management, which is taking the lead on changes in building regulations connected with future sea levels that will help drive changes in design and construction all along the Boston Harbor waterfront.
Maps showing the potential for flooding caused by rising sea level rise in Boston Harbor and the local neighborhoods, many of which are built on fill, which were prepared by the University of Massachusetts at Boston, provided a vivid and sobering call to action. The next step would be to confirm these findings in greater detail and take appropriate steps in Boston's capital plans to protect the city's assets against future flood damage.
The challenge, wrote the Boston Globe, is dealing with normal tides that are 2.5 feet to 5 feet higher than today, as well as the 100-year storm surges of another 5 feet.
"Scientists and policy-makers at the conference were careful to emphasize that the country should take all possible steps to slow climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but that government and the private sector will also have to take steps to adapt to the effects of climate change," the Globe wrote.
One innovative idea reported by the Globe came from a Princeton architecture professor who described a "soft infrastructure" proposal that would protect harbors like those in Boston and New York with small artificial islands and barrier reefs able to dissipate the energy of storm surges.
Massport has been thinking seriously about sea level rise since at least 1992 when it completed a study on the potential effects on its facilities of sea level rise in Boston Harbor.
The financial and real estate insurance industries are also increasingly alert to the potential dangers of global warming and are more frequently requesting disclosure of climate-related risks and opportunities on projects in which they are involved.
Investors are beginning to demand this information as well. And as Massport works with private contractors who want to develop its properties along the Boston Harbor waterfront, these concerns help the agency better integrate defenses for commercial projects against potential damages connected to flooding associated with sea level rise.
To date, airports and ports have mostly been focused on reducing greenhouse emissions. But moving forward, transportation agencies like Massport are beginning to place much greater emphasis on how to adapt and protect their facilities in an environment in which future "No Name" storms are not give names because they are so routine.