Mayor of sinking island defends Trump as not ‘really a sea level rise guy’

Trump called the mayor of Tangier Island to reassure him that he “believes” the island will withstand sea level rise and erosion.

Tangier Island, VA. CREDIT: AP Photo/Steve Helber
Tangier Island, VA. CREDIT: AP Photo/Steve Helber

The mayor of an an island that is literally sinking into the Atlantic Ocean due in part to a combination of sea level rise and climate change defended comments made by President Donald Trump last week by telling CNN that “the president isn’t really a sea level rise guy.”

Last week, the mayor of Tangier Island, Virgnia got a call from President Trump, who had just watched a CNN special about the island’s plight. Trump, who does not accept the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change, reportedly told the mayor not to worry about sea level rise.

“Your island has been there for hundreds of years, and I believe your island will be there for hundreds more,” Trump said, according to the mayor’s recounting of the conversation.

Tangier Island, which is home to around 500 residents, has lost nearly two-thirds of its landmass since 1850; it continues to lose around 16 feet of shoreline per year. According to the Army Corps of Engineers, the island could be uninhabitable in 20 to 50 years, even under conservative sea level rise scenarios.

The island overwhelmingly supported Trump in November, with 90 percent voting for him. Tangier’s mayor, James Eskridge, told CNN that he thinks erosion is a more immediate concern for the island than sea level rise.

But sea level rise is already becoming an immediate concern in low-lying areas, with places like Miami seeing an increase in sunny-day flooding in recent years. Rising sea-level also makes coastal communities more vulnerable to storm surges, like the storm surge associated with Hurricane Sandy in 2012, which caused major flood damage from Virginia to New York.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) 2017 report on sea-level rise scenarios for the United States, sea-level rise along the northeast coast of the United States, including the Virginia coast, is expected to be greater than the global average for almost every possible sea-level rise scenario. The mid-Atlantic coast is already seeing some of the most rapid increase in sea-level rise, with levels rising three to five millimeters per year.

Even if Trump himself isn’t really a sea level rise guy, his business empire will almost certainly be impacted by sea level rise. In 2016, Buzzfeed mapped NOAA sea level rise projections over some of Trump’s properties in Florida, showing that sea level rise of three feet — well within NOAA’s projections — could flood significant portions of his properties.

Trump is already taking precautions to guard against potential sea level rise at at least one of his properties, applying for permission to construct a sea wall outside of the Trump International Golf Links & Hotel in Ireland. The application, which was obtained by Politico in May of 2016, explicitly cites risk from climate change-related sea level rise as a reason for constructing the wall.