Even the Internet is not immune to the effects of climate change. Many of the world’s most famous tech giants, such as Facebook, Oracle, Google, Intel, and LinkedIn are at risk of flooding due to rising seas. A recent piece by Scientific American’s ClimateWire detailed the risks that companies face from global warming. Many areas of Silicon Valley are below sea level and close to the water, and a number facilities are vulnerable to fluctuating coastlines. Palo Alto, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, San Jose and the iconic Highway 1 could all be subject to massive flooding in the near future. Despite the threat of soggy facilities, Silicon Valley’s biggest names have been mostly silent as to plans of how to deal with the rising Pacific.
In the 1900’s, California’s Silicon Valley was formerly a cluster of orchards located near the coast known as the Valley of Heart’s Delight. When farmers pumped water for irrigation, the land was 3 to 10 feet below sea level. While dirt levees already exist to hold back ocean water, experts say the precautions are not nearly sufficient to deal with an already precarious situation. A draft study by the Army Corps of Engineers found that an extreme storm coupled with the fact businesses are already situated below sea level could cost billions of dollars in damage.
Companies have yet to share their plans with the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, making some very nervous about what lies ahead for the industry. “When you talk about a 50-year time horizon in terms of sea level rise, people’s eyes sort of glaze over because that’s too long for planning,” said Mike Mielke, vice president for environmental programs and policy of the group. He attributes this attitude to the short-term nature of the tech field, noting that businesses rarely plan more than five years ahead. Facebook, which is located directly on the water near a wildlife refuge off of the San Francisco Bay, is considering a new levee to deal with tidal waters.
Understanding the importance of Silicon Valley to California’s economy, lawmakers such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein have pressed businesses to partner with one another to raise money and come up with solutions that could preserve the more than 250 campuses at significant risk. While some may choose to move out of the immediate area to stay dry, there is not much land at higher elevations in the vicinity, making available real estate a problem. With so much at stake, environmental groups and government agencies are pressing the tech industry to start making plans for a future affected by global warming.