Calling Bullshit: Sea Level Rise in Silicon Valley


Bad Dramatization: Silicon Valley Underwater (c) Michael Halberstadt

A few days ago I stumbled upon a seemingly silly post: Bay area tech giants were threatened by sea level rise (Facebook, Google campuses at risk of being flooded due to sea level rise by Oliver Milman). The map showed Facebook underwater and Google possibly damp. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some big climate change skeptic. But I’ve noticed a religious like zeal among some willing to say almost anything to try and convert.


Bad Dramatization: Silicon Valley Underwater (c) Michael Halberstadt

So looking into this claim, the map was showing a 6’ sea level rise that is pretty much a worse case estimate for the year 2100! Now I know that there are low lying islands around the world where this is a real problem- arguably now. But this is really worthy of a hashtag joke, you know like #firstworldproblems or #thestruggleisreal or something.


To put this in perspective, let’s dissect this claim. Several prominent Internet companies, under the worst case scenario scientist can think of for the year 2100, the better part of a century in the future *might* be impacted. The actual estimates range from 8” (inches) to just over 6’ for the year 2100.


Now, let’s step back and get our fingers of the panic button for a moment. Why do we think there will be a (in any relevant way) Facebook or Google or insert tech company name here ____? If we look back a century at the top companies of the day, would we panic that Montgomery Wards, Sears, Ford, or whatever Headquarters was in jeopardy? I’ve seen photos of Detroit’s old buildings and factories. There’s a hashtag for that too: it’s #ruinporn. There’s something some (including myself) find beautiful in the patina and textures of rust and peeling paint. Point is we (including the authors of such stories) don’t really give a shit about the stuff they are crying wolf about in the past, only in an imagined future.


Searching for info, I came across an earlier article by Scientific American: Can Silicon Valley Adapt to Climate Change? By  Anne C. Mulkern in 2012.) The story makes a bold and false claim that goes unchallenged: “….Silicon Valley is 3 to 10 feet below sea level….” Bullshit- you can check for yourself. There might be some salt ponds at the edge of the bay that are below sea level. The story claims that pumping water for farming led to a drop in ground elevation- and that may be true to a point. But not bringing any of the areas of significance in the Valley anywhere near below sea level.


I’ve been working on some photos for my stock photo biz, captioning and keywording and writing my blog for and an idea occoured to me. While keywording a small railway station I was typing in the elevation as painted on an old sign. The sign was likely 70-100 years old in my estimation for Centerville, Fremont, California. It listed the distance to San Francisco and Ogden (why, I don’t know) and an elevation of 57 feet. So I went to check the present elevation with this tool. Guess what- it’s still 57 feet. Of course I don’t know for sure how old the sign is, or when the elevation tool tables were written. But it seems a reasonable guess that the elation measurement on a historical sign and what Google spits out should be many decades apart. So if there were substantial elevation changes, you’d think they’d been in play and visible.


So I thought of this fun experiment we can all do from the leisure of home. Find photos of old Silicon Valley (or Valley of the Heart’s Delight as it was known back then) train station signs and measure against modern data.


My first test was Fremont Centerville at 57:57


Since I’ve been plugging away finding station signs, the latest measurement and placing the results on this map HERE.