The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World

Calendar 10 May 2019
Time 3.00 pm – 4.30 pm. Registration from 2.30pm, seated by 3.00pm 
Location National Museum Gallery Theatre
cpd 2 SIP CPD pts, 1 SILA CPD pts, 1 QECP PDU pts, 2 ABC Water Professional PDU pts, 1 PEB PDU pts


Lecture Poster (PDF: 220 KB)
Lecture Slides by Mr Jeff Goodell (PDF: 6.5MB)

Lecture Video and Photos

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A renowned investigative journalist and contributing editor to Rolling Stone, Jeff Goodell has over 20 years’ experience covering a wide range of topics from politics, technology, crime, to technology and environmental issues. Since the early 2000, he dedicated his time researching and writing on environmental issues, and has published three critically acclaimed books on important environmental issues. “Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America’s Energy Future” was awarded the David R. Brower Award from the Sierra Club in 2012, for its outstanding environmental editing. “How to Cool the Planet: Geoengineering and the Audacious Quest to Fix Earth’s Climate” won the 2011 Grantham Prize Award of Special Merit. His latest book, “The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World”, featuring extensive interviews with scientists, climate change leaders and former US President Barack Obama, was published in 2017 and was soon rated a New York TimesCritics’ Top Book of 2017, one of Booklist’s Top 10 Science Books of 2017, and one of Washington Post’s 50 Notable Works of Nonfiction in 2017. Sea levels are projected to rise fast in the coming decades, with profound implications for virtually every coastal nation in the world, including Singapore. In this lecture, he will discuss the economic, environmental and political implications of rising seas and what cities around the world are doing to prepare for them.  Goodell will also report on a recent two-month-long trip he recently took to Antarctica with scientists who are studying the risk of sudden collapse of West Antarctic ice sheet. Jeff Goodell’s latest contribution to the environmental cause paints an eye-opening portrait of humankind’s dilemma as temperatures – and sea levels – continue to rise. The Water Will Come brings together compelling anecdotes from all over the globe and shocking expert assessments that should make the world’s few remaining skeptics reconsider.” (John F. Kerry, former US Secretary of State)

Lecture Report

“Because of the processes that we’re seeing in motion here (warming in Antarctica and the collapse of glaciers), we can’t rule out 15 feet (almost 5m) of sea level rise by the end of the century. I’m not saying that’s likely, but the best ice scientist in the world is telling me that we can’t rule that out, and that’s mind-blowing. (It would be) catastrophic for coastal cities (like) Shanghai, Singapore, New York, Miami - there’s no engineering solution for that kind of sea level rise.”


- Jeff Goodell


Rising sea levels caused by climate change will remake societies worldwide, leaving few aspects of human life untouched, said Jeff Goodell at a CLC lecture in April.


In this new and current reality, how we adapt to rising waters and other effects of climate change involves grappling with a host of economic and social questions, added the author of The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities and the Remaking of the Civilized World.


“Climate change is the central challenge that humanity has ever faced. It’s going to change everything about our world - where we live, what we eat, how we live, our values. I want to underscore that it’s not a future event - it’s happening now, in real time, and the changes that we’re seeing are only going to accelerate,” he said.


Pointing to the fact that carbon emissions have continued to rise even as the world has become more aware of the climate crisis, Goodell added: “(In reporting climate science for 20 years) it became clear to me that we’re not going to stop CO2 emissions anywhere near soon enough to avoid some of the worst impacts of climate change.


“We’re moving into adaptation land. While cutting emissions is important for all kinds of reasons, it’s important to understand that we’re not going to stop the changes.”


While different cities and countries face different climate effects and have different adaptation strategies available to them, the big questions of adaptation remain common to all.


These questions include whether the world will get serious about cutting carbon emissions to change the long-term trajectory of our climate, even as we adapt to the present effects, and the hard decisions that are going to have to made as familiar landscapes, homes, cultures and natural wonders are lost. “As the seas come up, a lot of stuff is going to be inundated. We’ll be able to save some stuff, and some stuff we won’t, because the economics are going to be impossible to deal with,” said Goodell.


“These questions of how we make these decisions, what we decide to save and what we decide not to save, how much we do to move people out of areas, the inevitable retreat that’s going to have to happen - these are very difficult political decisions.”


Societies will have to deal with losses at both the social and economic levels, and Goodell raised a host of economic issues that will arise when coastal areas are no longer liveable.


“When I walk around Miami Beach now, I look at it as a landscape of stranded assets. These buildings and condominiums that sell for 10 million dollars - they’re not going to be worth anything in some future moment.


“When does the real estate market collide with the reality (of) climate science,” he asked, pointing out that Singapore and Hong Kong have some of the most valuable real estate at risk from sea level rise and flooding.


“What happens when people start to sell and people start to leave is that property values depreciate, and they depreciate at exactly a time when cities need more money to build coastal defences, put up seawalls, raise roads or improve the septic systems.


“The other thing that happens when people start to leave is that you have refugees - a lot of people leaving coastal areas will have nowhere to go,” added Goodell, adding that Singapore, like other cities worldwide, will have to deal with the problems faced by the region as a whole, even if it adopts adaptation strategies to make it an “island fortress”.


Having reported on a wide range of climate adaptation measures around the world, Goodell made the point that while many billions of dollars will be spent, much of that investment will be wasted on inadequate measures or short-term fixes.


He gave the example of the Mose Venezia flood barrier in Venice, an engineering solution that came at a cost of more than US$6 billion, but is only equipped to deal with some 20cm of sea level rise. The higher end of current scientific studies project between two to four metres of sea level rise.


While adaptation strategies will necessarily vary, the principle of learning to live with water is increasingly important.


“Even the Dutch, who have a thousand years of experience with living with water and have done a very good job of building dykes and other things to keep the water out are realising that they can’t do that anymore.


“Wall-building is a very 20th century idea, and a lot of the best thinking I’m hearing now is about living with water, with floating structures, adjustable structures,” said Goodell.


While individual decisions on consumption remain important, the current crisis demands that governments around the world take the lead, he added.


“With climate change and sea level rise, the problem is that it’s all political. We have the technology to deal with all of this stuff - it’s not an alien invasion, we don’t need gamma ray guns - but we need political will to take on these challenges on the energy side and the adaptation side.”


This report first appeared in the Jun 2019 Better Cities newsletter.


About the Speakers


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Jeff Goodell

Contributing Editor, Rolling Stone
Author, The Water Will Come


Jeff Goodell received a B.A. in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and an M.F.A. from the Columbia University. Goodell began his career as a journalist, and has over 20 years’ journalist experience covering a wide range of topics, ranging from politics, technology, crime, to climate scientists and internet billionaires. He is a frequent contributor to The New York Times Magazine and Yale E360, and has published in The New Republic and Wired. Through years of research, Goodell has established himself as an expert to write on climate change, rising sea level and energy issues, and he actively calls for urgent actions to address climate issues. He serves on the board of the McHarg Centre at the University of Pennsylvania School of Design, and was on New America Fellowship from 2016 to 2017.


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Dr Winston Chow

Assistant Professor, Department of Geography
National University of Singapore


Dr Winston Chow is an Assistant Professor of Geography at the National University of Singapore researching on how cities affect weather & climate, and how weather & climate affects cities. He is a Principal Investigator for the Cooling Singapore initiative , and was recently selected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to be a Lead Author for their Cities chapter in the Sixth Assessment Report on Climate Change due in 2021. He enjoys talking and writing about these research issues, and he tweets sporadically on many topics (unrelated to climate change) at @winstontlchow