Book Review: Jeff Goodell’s The Water Will Come is a devastating warning for a not-too-distant, water-logged world

The idea of a modern-day Atlantis, or large coastal cities flooded by rising sea-levels sounds like the stuff of horror or science fiction films. Instead, The Water Will Come is a frightening, non-fiction book written by Rolling Stone contributing editor, Jeff Goodell.

Goodell has written about climate change for over 15 years and is able to distill these complex topics into accessible prose. What ultimately makes The Water Will Come  a scary book is that it reminds us all of just how ill-equipped and ill-prepared our world is for sea level rise. We are like the frogs in boiling water slowly dying and if we’re not careful we won’t be able to turn things around before it’s too late.

In the book, Goodell looks at places like Miami Beach, the Marshall Islands, Lagos and Venice to explore how each of these different places will cope with the impending effects of climate change and sea level rise. Goodell says that this book isn’t for the climate deniers. Instead, he explains the climate science including the melting ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland and the potential for destruction in real terms. The devastating hurricanes that the U.S. has had in recent years are mere dress rehearsals for a reality where the water will rise and not go away.

Goodell’s account is incredibly timely, because as I write this review, Baltimore is being devastated by floods, and Miami Beach is now seeing king tides envelope the city on a more frequent basis. We can only ignore these incidents for so long. As it currently stands, even if we stopped burning fossil fuels tomorrow there is still enough carbon dioxide in the air to impact the earth and create some degree of sea level rise. What we should be looking at now is reducing fossil fuel consumption to mitigate the overall effects that it has on increasing the earth’s temperature and ultimately, sea level rise.

If you think the water rising is not that big a deal then books like this will help you to stop and re-think your position. The water that rises will be highly contaminated. It won’t be fresh and natural sea water. It will contain viruses and all manner of organic matter and pollutants. The high salt content will contaminate fresh water supplies. A place like Miami, which is built on porous limestone will be impossible to salvage,  because you cannot simply erect a sea wall, like you could in other locations. Simply put, millions of climate change refugees are going to be displaced as their homes are submerged.

The Water Will Come is quite simply the scariest book I’ve ever read. But, I also hope that it will be the one that will finally galvanise us all to take some serious action. Goodell’s descriptions of the scientific forecasts and the high economic costs are nothing short of horrific. We cannot afford to keep our heads in the sand any longer. We need action because the stakes are so high and the potential for destruction is no longer something you can deny.

The Water Will Come is available now through Black Inc. Books.