“Carbon emissions causing 4°C of warming — what business-as-usual points toward today —- could lock in enough sea level rise to submerge land currently home to 470 to 760 million people, with unstoppable rise unfolding over centuries. At the same time, aggressive carbon cuts limiting warming to 2°C could bring the number as low as 130 million people. These are the stakes for global climate talks December in Paris.”
I’m not going to bother addressing the bogus 2°C claims much, as this has always been a dishonest claim. This amount of warming and more is now already locked in and there is absolutely nothing the world will be able to do now to stop it. We’re not seeing any “aggressive cuts” or anything else of substance from the Paris talks. The Arctic and large portions of Greenland and the Antarctic are now in accelerating, unstoppable melt, along with most of the glaciers in the world. The amount of fresh water that is being dumped into the oceans is not by any definition or sane imagination “stoppable”, (ie., “you cannot replace the ice”), therefore sea levels will rise inexorably.
And this means that the 470 – 760 million people who are now living where the seas will rise will be displaced. Half a billion people. All refugees. All currently living on land that will be submerged or subject to chronic flooding.
Where will they go? What will they do? How will they survive?
It’s hard to imagine the amount of infrastructure in these locations. High rise buildings, factories, ports, power plants, farmland, roads, bridges, homes, schools, shopping centers, stores, all the ‘stuff’ that makes civilization what it is today. All of it flooded, ruined and drowned, poisoning the rising waters with toxins, chemicals, oils, solvents, paint, fuel, asphalt, billions of tons of garbage and radioactive waste.
The ocean waters are going to be literally poisoned by the detritus of mankind. The coastal waters and probably much of the oceans themselves, will be unfit for life. This will further disrupt the phytoplankton in the oceans, and lead to even more oxygen depletion. Nobody knows how much this will be effected, but it’s probably safe to assume using simple common sense, that if the ocean waters are highly polluted from our residue that oxygen production is bound to decline to some degree.
The problem with rising seas is much bigger then anyone has yet to imagine. It’s not just the difficulties of relocating half a billion people (which is in reality, a conservative estimate as shown below), or how to feed them, house them or provide for their daily living; it’s a problem that has far bigger implications then even all of that. The world’s coastlines will become toxic.
That means humans are not going to be able to inhabit the ‘higher ground’ near the coasts as once thought.
Some may have imagined that we will also relocate our existing infrastructure away from the rising waters. It’s sounds doable, but what about reality? The costs would be astronomical – and there virtually nothing for any company or corporation to profit from. Recycling the relocated resources isn’t practical except in cases of certain metals and fill material. Most of the materials we used for roads, houses, buildings, hospitals, factories, bridges, power stations would simply have to be abandoned. Flooded landfills would leach out millions of tons of toxic chemicals and substances into the ocean waters. Fresh water aquifers would become polluted not only with salt water, but these chemicals too.
Sea level rise means an exponential increase in global pollution – the likes of which we have never even imagined before. I honestly cannot even imagine what this will look like. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch will pale in comparison to what flooded coastal cities will do to the ocean content of garbage.
How long would it take to relocate the infrastructure? Decades if we were to try – and we would need to start right now. But this is not happening. Humans have a hard time grasping projects of this scale and complexity, there are all kinds of psychological stumbling blocks preventing us from understanding the scope of this threat or the need to act quickly. But supposing again that we could, could we begin now, in time? It’s very doubtful because of the other societal and legal barriers. Gaining permission or authority to start to ‘dismantle civilization’ on the flooding coastlines would be quite an impossible task, and even if that could be done, where do they rebuild? How do they solve the complex issues of financial loss, expenditures and ownership?
Humanity has never encountered a problem (ever) on this scale. We do not know if we even have it within us to solve it. But if you look at our failures to address climate change for the past 40 years (when we had ample time and opportunity but failed to act), it’s pretty doubtful we’ll find the wherewithal within ourselves to get it right this time. Our history demonstrates that we don’t always act decisively, correctly or wisely – and so far, despite all the known science, warnings, measurements and awareness that our coastlines are going to drown, we’re still building right on the waters edge like tomorrow will never happen. So it’s far more likely that we will fail – and should we finally act, it will be too little, too late, leaving the coastal regions toxic and uninhabitable for man or fish.
That is the most likely scenario. It’s not pretty, but it’s probably realistic.
What about those half-billion people? They’ll leave, taking what they can with them, but anything bolted down or buried will be left behind.
Where will they go? First off, this number is too low, it will be far more then a half-billion. When they go – as they must – they will take with them all of their economic activity – their jobs, their production, their harvests, everything that humans do. There is an assumption that this will simply be restarted again somewhere else (at what cost?), but it is not true. A large portion of the rest of civilization will follow them economically and in many cases, physically to wherever (and however) they wind up. A half-billion may now live in soon-to-be-submerged areas, but billions more will be impacted when they become climate refugees.
Many jobs and life activities will be gone (like fishing off the coasts), aquaculture, tourism and even shipping (many of the world’s ports will be destroyed). Some may be rebuilt – if suitable locations can be found – and if sufficient funds are located, but quite a lot of infrastructure simply won’t or can’t be rebuilt – and all that economic activity that once flourished will be gone. The cost to the world will be worse then staggering – it will be catastrophic.
Most people are probably not aware that this is all unfolding right now. So far, it’s “small” but worsening. Salt water is already intruding upon coastal aquifers, a problem that is being monitored in many locations. Once ‘polluted’, it is forever lost as a source of fresh water. What this means – and nobody yet seems to realize this – is that relocating billions of people to ‘higher ground’ is going to have be farther away from the coast and higher in elevation then anyone has realized. Fresh water will become even more crucial. And they will need to be relocated after sufficient infrastructure is first built (ideally) – otherwise it means massive refugee camps for the dislocated.
Perhaps now you may realize just how bad this is going to be for humanity. The refugee centers to come will be truly huge, making the current refugee crisis pale in comparison. The world has never seen a crisis of this magnitude. This is one of the reasons why climate change is so dire – we’re not prepared for something like this. We have not even begun to address the issues of fresh water, food production, economic activity or infrastructure relocation and construction for the refugees, or how any of this this is going to be worked out. This represents tens of trillions of dollars required to try and ‘cope’ with just sea level rise. None of this does anything about continued warming or carbon saturation in the world’s oceans or continued emissions.
The countries most affected will be those with large low-lying coastal regions with dense populations. The list of countries is truly massive: China, Vietnam, Japan, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Thailand, Netherlands, Philippines, Myanmar, United States, England, Brazil, Germany, France, Malaysia, Taiwan, Egypt, Tunisia, Mauritania, Mexico, Senegal, Libya and virtually ALL low-lying islands worldwide.
In my research, I actually found it difficult to find a accurate list of coastal cities affected. I did learn that virtually all of them (worldwide) are on the list as affected cities, which is something all by itself hard to imagine, but it’s true. Some are entirely submerged and destroyed and others just affected. But no single comprehensive list seems to be available yet. This seems a bit suspicious to me because it’s one of the most obvious things we need right now. There are lists of the top 10 or top 20, but the real list would including thousands of locations around the world. You can check out the tools and maps on Surging Seas to zero in on your location or anyplace you care about. Select one of the maps, enter in a location (city and state or country) and then zoom in. You can also read this article and map for U.S. cities: What Does U.S. Look Like With 10 Feet of Sea Level Rise?
Bear in mind that as the science and measurements of melt advance – and the temperatures continue to climb – that the published data is already years out of date. The reality is worse then what is being published. But this report is a bit more current, James Hansen and 16 other authors claim 5 meters within 50 years which will be the “economic and social cost of losing functionally all coastal cities…” (recommended reading).
Of special interest for those who are watching all of this unfold is Greenland. Much of Greenland’s remarkable melt has not even reached the oceans yet. Underneath all of that ice is a shallow continental-sized depression that has been filling with water. The ‘scary’ is what happens when it finally does? How fast will this flood the world’s oceans and increase sea level rise?
Over a few summer days in 2012, nearly all of the Greenland ice sheet surface thawed right under the feet of a UCLA-led team of scientists. What was not absorbed into snow quickly gathered and flowed across the 20,000-square-mile sheet, coalescing into roaring turquoise rivers. And then most of it disappeared.
“That water isn’t just going to stay; it’s going to start coming out eventually,” Smith said. “It might have come out 18 months later. I can’t envision the ice sheet absorbing that water for centuries.”
Smith and Wagner noted that the bottom line on Greenland is that melting has been accelerating over a period of a decade or more, and that the melt line is moving higher and higher in elevation. All that fresh water ultimately will flow to the ocean, they said.
It’s also known now by science that the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) is in catastrophic meltdown. This is considered “unstoppable” and is predicted to raise sea level by 4 feet. But once this happens – additional ice will come into contact with the warming oceans furthering even more melt and contributing to sea level rise.
What I’ve found of great interest is how these estimates are constantly being updated (always worse for humanity) to reflect the actual speed and severity of the actual events unfolding. The Big Melt is happening a lot faster then estimated. There are many unknowns that remain, but there is no doubt whatsoever what this means for humanity. A large and significant percentage of our civilization is going to flood and billions are going to be affected. This is clearly another reason why we are already in a planetary emergency.