Sea Level Rise in Silicon Valley

Silly Over Dramatic Dramatization of Effects of Sea Level Rise on Facebook (M Halberstadt/, Michael Halberstadt)
Silly Over Dramatic Dramatization of Effects of Sea Level Rise on Facebook (M Halberstadt/, Michael Halberstadt)

Recently I stumbled upon a story by the British publication The Guardian warning that sea level rises threaten Google, Facebook and other tech titans fancy buildings. I’m not a big climate skeptic, but this article really appeared to have some major factual errors and was designed to alarm and incite.

 (Michael Halberstadt)
(Over)dramatization of Sea Level Rise in Silicon Valley (Michael Halberstadt)- Hey that marshmallow turned out to double as a floatation device!

First off, they start with a map of the San Francisco Bay with selected tech companies dotted along the coast- then a second map with where the coast would be with a 6’ sea level rise. What’s wrong with that picture? First off, they don’t point out that 6’ is the most pessimistic estimate for the year 2100! I’m reminded of the steamroller scene in Austin Powers.

Scientific American published a similar story in 2012 with some easily verifiable errors and some golden quotes like: “’They don’t think long-term’” (duh, the lifespan of SV companies is about as long on average as mice,) and this rather curious quote: “….Silicon Valley is 3 to 10 feet below sea level…..” There may be an exception here and there, but the VAST MAJORITY of Silicon Valley is not below present sea level, or even very close. You can poke around the map of SV with this tool for the actual height above sea level as could Scientific American if they cared to fact check anything.

Facebook Headquarters, Silicon Valley (Michael Halberstadt)
Back of Facebook Headquarters sing with the previous tenant Sun Microsystems , Silicon Valley (Michael Halberstadt)

Let’s put this in perspective…. Why don’t we look back about a century and ask about the status of the biggest companies of the day?

In researching this, I found that the Fortune 500 list is only available starting in the year 1955. As you might have guessed- many of the companies on that list only 61 years ago are gone or forgotten. Number one on the list was GM, that narrowly avoided collapse by government intervention a decade or so ago. I don’t even think it’s worth the time to research, but I’m assuming that many of those companies HQ’s have been bulldozed, burnt down, or more likely sold and reused for another purpose.

Another way of looking at this: If I told you that MySpace HQ was near a fault line and would likely collapse in an 8.0 or greater earthquake you would likely either 1) ask “what’s Myspace?” or b) say why should I care, they can retrofit, or move or go out of business for all I care.

Historic Garage Where Silicon Valley Was Born (Michael Halberstadt)
Historic Garage Where Silicon Valley Was Born (Michael Halberstadt)

Of the historical tech companies of Silicon Valley we have some remnants. But not much is left- including interest by the young and wealthy hipster class that writes that dribble. You can visit the house in Los Altos where the first Apple computers were built. You can see the garage where HP got their start. But if you do, you will usually only see a couple of die-hard tech fans. And most of the sites where Silicon Valley history was made are lucky to have a brass plaque. Visitors to Silicon Valley are likely to breeze past.

 (Photographer: Michael Halberstadt)
The “Apple Garage” where Jobs and Woz started (Photographer: Michael Halberstadt)

It’s easy to get caught up in the here and now. Yet we can look at things in perspective. Empires rise and fall- so does sea level. Though we should take adequate measures to avoid problems, the fate of a bunch of the playgrounds of the ueber rich in a century shouldn’t be on our list of priorities.