Tangier mayor disputes cause of island's land loss on CNN

(Delmarva Now) -- Tangier Mayor James "Ooker" Eskridge disputed the reason for the island's land loss in a television appearance Tuesday on CNN's climate change town hall with Al Gore.

Eskridge was one of several audience members who had the opportunity to ask a question of Gore at the event, along with a priest serving in Appalachian Kentucky and a teenage girl whose home was destroyed by Superstorm Sandy, among others.

"I'm a commercial crabber and I've been working the Chesapeake Bay for 50-plus years. I have a crab house business out on the water, and the water level is the same as it was when the place was built in 1970," Eskridge told Gore and host Anderson Cooper.

"I'm not a scientist, but I'm a keen observer. If sea-level rise is occurring, why am I not seeing signs of it?" he said.

Eskridge went on to say, "Our island is disappearing, but it's because of erosion and not sea-level rise."

The last statement reflected an often-repeated sentiment among island residents about the cause of land loss there.

Eskridge also mentioned the need for a seawall to protect Tangier from further land loss.

"Unless we get a seawall, we will lose our island," he said.

Eskridge was introduced by host Cooper as the mayor of "a very small island in the Chesapeake Bay that's now in danger of being swallowed by the sea."

Cooper noted that nearly 90 percent of Tangier residents voted for Donald Trump for president and that islanders are asking for funding for a seawall to be built to save the island from further land loss.

Cooper also mentioned Donald Trump's telephone call to Eskridge in June, in which Trump reassured the mayor that the island would be around for hundreds of years.

Gore, after hearing Eskridge's question, asked the mayor to what he attributes the erosion problem on Tangier.

Eskridge said it was due to wave action and storms.

"Has that increased any?" Gore said.

"Not really," said Eskridge, noting the erosion "has been going on since Capt. John Smith discovered the island and named it. It has gotten to our doorstep now, and we focus on it more."

Gore told Eskridge he was "sorry what you are going through" and said "arguments about the science aren't necessarily going to be of any comfort to you."

Gore said scientists say the sea level in the Chesapeake Bay is rising and that Tangier has already lost about 2/3 of the island.

"The forecast of the future is another two feet of sea level rise," he said

"If I see sea-level rise occurring, I'll shout it from the housetop. We don't have the land to give up. But I'm just not seeing it," Eskridge said.

Gore said one of the challenges related to the climate change issue is "taking what the scientists say and translating it into terms that are believable to people and where they can see the consequences in their own lives."

A number of Tangier residents and others commenting on social media after the exchange took umbrage at Gore's recounting of a joke in which a man trapped in his home by a flood turns down three different offers of rescue as the waters continue to rise, saying the Lord would provide for him.

After he perished, God told him the rescuers were his means of providing for the man's rescue.

"We have heaven-sent, so to speak, enough solar energy in one hour to provide what the entire world uses for a full year; and from wind, we get 40 times as much energy as the entire world needs. We have the tools available now to solve this crisis," he said.

Commenters on social media took Gore's joke as making fun of islanders' faith. Tangier is well-known as a bastion of Methodism.

Another commercial crabber, Keith Colburn, who appears on the television show "Deadliest Catch," appeared later in the town hall.

Colburn said he has seen firsthand erratic weather resulting from climate change.

His question of Gore was, "How do we convince the skeptics that climate change is scientifically real?"

Gore said trying to "figure out first where the person is coming from" is what he does.

Gore said people "who work up close to nature" such as fishermen and farmers are the group where the biggest change of opinion about climate change has been noted.

"I think Mother Nature is more persuasive than any of us. ... It is, unfortunately, getting worse, and a few years from now it's going to be easier still to convince people, unfortunately. But we're running out of time," Gore said.

Delmarva Now


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