Even the Sub-Mariner can't stop the rising sea

Back during the Golden Age of comics, Bill Everett in 1939 conceived of the under-sea superhero Namor, the Sub-Mariner, as a scourge against evil.

His target, initially, was the Nazis.

"He is a rare hybrid endowed with great strength, power over the undersea world, the ability to breathe both in and out of water, and the gift of flight," writes blogger and Sub-Mariner expert J. Chivian at chivian.com. "He fought valiantly with the Allies in both the Atlantic and Pacific during World War II. He has been King of Atlantis."

Namor left the comic scene in 1955 but returned in the 1960s, or Silver Age as it's known to fans. But this time around, he was furious not with the Axis powers but with earth-dwellers in general for fouling his oceans with leaky barrels of nuclear waste and assorted garbage and for exterminating sea life with nets and pollution.

He's likely less pleased today (although I stopped buying the Marvel books in the early 1980s and know nothing of his present-day adventures). A two-page release issued this week by the California Energy Commission's Public Interest Energy Research Program said that rising sea levels will have significant impacts, causing coastal flooding and erosion.

"Melting of the land-based ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, as well as the thermal expansion of warming seawater, has contributed to a rise of global sea level at an average rate of approximately 3 millimeters per year from 1993 to 2010," the release said.

The release describes a research project coordinated through the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences. The council is assembling a committee of experts that will seek answers to four goals: determining potential sea level rise in 2030, 2050 and 2100 "along with the uncertainty associated with these values"; providing local data for ocean winds, el niƱo effects, storm frequency and others; recommending planning guidelines for local governments; and conduct case studies to help governments plan ahead.

The project is to be the first California-specific assessment for sea-level rise and likely will be controversial. And why not? Nobody wants to hear that coastal land faces threats to erosion.

After the 1964 Alaska Earthquake, Kodiak Island sunk an estimated four feet. On tiny Raspberry Island where my family's processing plant was based, high tide subsequently washed over the top of the dock, rendering the whole operation useless. The Seldovia plant was destroyed as well.

Just the personal losses were immense, and that's just a single story. Imagine hundreds of thousands and millions of lives and businesses affected. The project undertaken by the council may be California specific, but the issue has world-wide implications.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said in testimony before the House Energy and Commerce's Subcommittee on Energy and Power recently that the threat of climate change (and thus stuff like melting polar caps) is real. She said the EPA found in 2009 that man-made greenhouse gas emissions threaten the health and welfare of the American people.

"EPA is not alone in reaching that conclusion," she said in an appearance meant to oppose legislation that would block a move by President Obama to beef up The Clean Air Act. "The National Academy of Sciences has stated that there is a strong, credible body of evidence, based on multiple lines of research, documenting that the climate is changing and that the changes are caused in large part by human activities."

Jackson went on to say that 18 of the nation's "leading scientific societies have written that multiple lines of evidence show humans are changing the climate ... and that ongoing climate change will have broad impacts on society, including the global economy and the environment."

Assertions to the contrary, she essentially said, are full of malarkey.

Sub-Mariner would not be pleased.

Janet Ritz, editor of the-environmentalist.org, put some perspective on the coming changes in a piece for the Huffington Post. "The new climate reality will force everyone, no matter what their belief about climate change, to live in an unstable climate," she said.

Ritz outlined studies that foretell the disappearance of species, longer winters, harsher droughts and "where floods happen so fast they defy forecast and correctly earn what used to be the hyperbole of 'biblical.'"

She didn't say anything about Namor's wrath. I can imagine Smilin' Stan Lee crafting devastating drama with our undersea friend saving the day but not the war. Our hero, in one of Lee's episodes, would walk back into the ocean wondering, "What have they done?"