No Planet for Optimists: Coastal Flooding May Come Sooner and Bigger Than We Think
Of all the impacts of climate change, one stands out for its inexorable menace, writes Pete Dolack: rising oceans. And it's not just for distant future generations to deal with: new scientific studies show that people alive today may face 6-9 metres of sea level rise flooding well over a million sq.km including many of the world's biggest cities. So where's the emergency response?
No Planet for Optimists: Coastal Flooding May Come Sooner and Bigger Than We Think
By Pete Dolack / theecologist.org
Apr 11, 2016

There is a possibility, a real danger, that we will hand young people and future generations a climate system that is practically out of their control. We have a global emergency.

When it comes to global warming, what else don't we know?

What science does know, and what it can infer from studying archeological records, already makes anybody who thinks the long-term habitability of Earth is more important than short-term profits very worried.

One detail that may have been under-appreciated is meltwater. Melting ice sheets, especially in Greenland and Antarctica, is well understood to raise the sea level. But the effects might not be simply the additional water added to the oceans.

In this scenario, the melted freshwater will additionally increase warming, thereby creating a feedback loop that will accelerate the loss of polar ice sheets, thus accelerating the rate of sea-level rise. How fast? Fast enough that the sea level could rise by "several meters", possibly six to nine meters, in 50 to 150 years.

This sobering prediction of what might happen without a drastic reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions is the conclusion of 19 climate scientists from the United States, France, Germany and China who studied the effect of growing ice melt from Greenland and Antarctica through the use of climate simulations, paleoclimate data and modern observations.

The paper, published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics and led by James Hansen(see his article on The Ecologist), concludes that swift action is necessary in the face of a"global emergency".

Predictions of a future catastrophic rise in the oceans, threatening to drown many of the world's biggest cities, are by now far from novel. Two other recent papers conclude that humanity has already committed itself to a six-meter rise in sea level because of the greenhouse gases already thrown into the atmosphere and the retention and later slow release of much of those gases by the world's oceans.

A study in the journal Science estimates that more than 1,115,000 sq.km (444,000 sq.miles) of land, where more than 375 million people live today, would be inundated by such a rise.

Compare that to the complacency of the world's governments at the Paris Climate Summit in December 2015. Despite a thunder of plaudits from the corporate media, the governments committed themselves to goals that, even if achieved, would lead to a global temperature rise of nearly 3 degrees Celsius by 2100, with further increases beyond that.

That is far beyond the goal of 1.5 degrees set at the summit. But even the summit's actual modest goals are not necessarily attainable because peer pressure is the primary mechanism to induce compliance; there are no binding legal agreements.

Feedback loops accelerate ice-sheet melting

The Atmospheric Chemistry paper says that sea level was at times six to nine meters higher than today approximately 115,000 years ago when the average global temperature "probably was only a few tenths of a degree warmer than today." Ice-sheet stability may be a key to understanding rapid sea-level rise, the authors write.

The injection of added freshwater into the oceans from faster ice-sheet melting reduces the mixing of ocean waters, causing warmer water to remain at lower depths and thus making warmer water more available to melt the remaining ice shelves. This additional impact of meltwater on the global climate and its feedbacks had not been appreciated before, the authors write. They summarize this as follows:

"Our principal finding concerns the effect of meltwater on stratification of the high-latitude ocean and resulting ocean heat sequestration that leads to melting of ice shelves and catastrophic ice sheet collapse. Stratification contrasts with homogenization.

"Winter conditions on parts of the North Atlantic Ocean and around the edges of Antarctica normally produce cold, salty water that is dense enough to sink to the deep ocean, thus stirring and tending to homogenize the water column. Injection of fresh meltwater reduces the density of the upper ocean wind-stirred mixed layer, thus reducing the rate at which cold surface water sinks in winter at high latitudes."

Existing models, including the authors' own, underplays this mixing effect, the paper states, and thus anthropogenic warming "may be even more imminent than in our model." Regardless of the exact timing, a tipping point will be reached:

"If the ocean continues to accumulate heat and increase melting of marine-terminating ice shelves of Antarctica and Greenland, a point will be reached at which it is impossible to avoid large-scale ice sheet disintegration with sea level rise of at least several meters. The economic and social cost of losing functionality of all coastal cities is practically incalculable."

What might happen if the global temperature rises 2 degrees C. from pre-industrial levels? The possibilities are these:

"Continued high fossil fuel emissions this century are predicted to yield:
(1) cooling of the Southern Ocean, especially in the Western Hemisphere;
(2) slowing of the Southern Ocean overturning circulation, warming of the ice shelves, and growing ice sheet mass loss;
(3) slowdown and eventual shutdown of the Atlantic overturning circulation with cooling of the North Atlantic region;
(4) increasingly powerful storms; and
(5) non-linearly growing sea level rise, reaching several meters over a timescale of 50-150 years. These predictions, especially the cooling in the Southern Ocean and North Atlantic with markedly reduced warming or even cooling in Europe, differ fundamentally from existing climate change assessments."

A cold and arid Europe

The authors cite evidence that at the end of the interglacial period in which sea level was believed to be six to nine meters higher than today, there was a dramatic cooling in northern Europe, estimated at 3C in summer and 5C to 10C in winter in southern Germany, accompanied by four centuries of arid weather and a decline in trees.

During the period of sea-level rise, the North Atlantic is also believed to have suffered from more severe storms, with archeological evidence from Bermuda and the Bahamas used as evidence.

As a consensus for global warming emerges, there is less certainty that capping global temperature increase to 2C would be 'safe'; thus the Paris Climate Summit's surprise conclusion to set a goal of a 1.5C limit. To achieve such a goal, however, would, as noted above, require cuts to greenhouse-gas emissions far beyond anything pledged.

The studies indicating that humanity has already committed itself to a six- to nine-meter sea-level rise imply that temperatures will rise past 1.5 degrees as greenhouse gas-generated heat trapped by the oceans is slowly released into the atmosphere over many decades, if not centuries.

There is no alternative to a massive change to industrial activity - no amount of re-forestation can come close to canceling out the effect of industrial activity. The Atmospheric Chemistry paper concludes with this sober assessment:

"There is a possibility, a real danger, that we will hand young people and future generations a climate system that is practically out of their control. We conclude that the message our climate science delivers to society, policymakers, and the public alike is this: we have a global emergency. Fossil fuel CO2 emissions should be reduced as rapidly as practical."

Unfortunately, we live in an economic system that requires constant growth and offers no alternative work for those whose jobs would be eliminated were we to shut down the most polluting industries. In one of his novels, Arthur C. Clarke wrote of a 23rd century world that was finally eliminating the clutter and pollution of the 20th century.

Sad to say, the late science fiction master was overly optimistic.


Pete Dolack is an activist, writer, poet and photographer, and writes on Systemic Disorder. His forthcoming book 'It's Not Over: Lessons from the Socialist Experiment', a study of attempts to create societies on a basis other than capitalism, will be published by Zero Books in February 2016.

This article was originally published on Systemic Disorder.

3.8 ·
1
Trending Today
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 11,529 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
The Top 100 Documentaries We Can Use to Change the World
Films For Action · 3,788 views today · A more beautiful, just and sustainable world is possible. Take this library and use it to inspire global change!
PROPAGANDA (2012)
95 min · 2,527 views today · Since it mysteriously appeared on YouTube on July 18, 2012, ‘Propaganda’ has been described as ‘1984 meets The Blair Witch Project’, ‘A mouthful of scary porridge’, and ‘Even...
The Science Behind Connection
9 min · 2,264 views today · Evolutionary Biologist, Bruce Lipton, visits the Beatles Ashram in Rishikesh, India with UPLIFT writer, Jacob Devaney. Making a pilgrimage back to one of the epicenters of...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 1,945 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Life Goes On: A Positive and Uplifting Response to Dark Times
2 min · 1,677 views today · Recent world events have a lot of people feeling fearful and angry. But there is much more good than bad in this world, and I choose to remain hopeful. This video explains why.
Obama's Hidden Role in Worsening Climate Change
Stansfield Smith · 852 views today · It should be a scandal that leftists-liberals paint Trump as a special threat, a war mongerer – not Obama who is the first president to be at war everyday of his eight years...
"Desert Goddess" Remembers Arizona's Glen Canyon
7 min · 600 views today · In this excerpt from the award-winning documentary DamNation, filmmakers Ben Knight and Travis Rummel interview the "desert goddess," Katie Lee. When the Glen Canyon Dam was...
Dinosaur explains Trump policies better than Trump!
8 min · 465 views today · Donald Trump is actually the corporate triceratops, Mr. Richfield, from the 90's TV show sitcom, "Dinosaurs". 
How Mindfulness Empowers Us
2 min · 368 views today · Many traditions speak of the opposing forces within us, vying for our attention. Native American stories speak of two wolves, the angry wolf and the loving wolf, who both live...
18 Empowering Illustrations to Remind Everyone Who's Really in Charge of Women's Bodies
Julianne Ross · 327 views today · When Brazilian graphic designer Carol Rossetti began posting colorful illustrations of women and their stories to Facebook, she had no idea how popular they would...
Make The Serengeti Great Again | Resource Scarcity, Demagogues and How Creativity Can Trump Hate (2017)
5 min · 308 views today · A Familiar Tale of Resource Scarcity, Demagogues, and How Creativity Can Trump Hate A quick, original, illustrated allegory that pokes at the demagogues we’ve got with an...
Stunning Photos By Alexander Semenov Showcase The Alien Beauty Of Jellyfish
Earth Porm · 290 views today · Jellyfish appear like beautiful aliens in Alexander Semenov’s photography, calling a new attraction to a magical species of marine life. Alexander Semenov is a marine...
This Zen Comic Is Full of Timeless Life Lessons
Gavin Aung Than · 265 views today · Desiderata poem by Max Ehrmann beautifully illustrated by Gavin Aung Than
Defiance in the Face of Oppression - Iranian Artist Atena Farghadani Defends the Right to Draw
Gavin Aung Than · 250 views today · Atena Farghadani is a 28-year-old Iranian artist. She was recently sentenced to 12 years and 9 months in prison for drawing a cartoon.  
Why It's Crucial for Women to Heal the Mother Wound
Bethany Webster · 237 views today · The issue at the core of women’s empowerment is the mother wound
The White Man in That Photo
Riccardo Gazzaniga · 220 views today · Sometimes photographs deceive. Take this one, for example. It represents John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s rebellious gesture the day they won medals for the 200 meters at the...
HUMAN (2015)
382 min · 212 views today · What is it that makes us human? Is it that we love, that we fight? That we laugh? Cry? Our curiosity? The quest for discovery?  Driven by these questions, filmmaker and artist...
Money & Life (2013)
86 min · 207 views today · Money & Life is a passionate and inspirational essay-style documentary that asks a provocative question: can we see the economic crisis not as a disaster, but as a tremendous...
Deconstructing Hierarchies: On Contrived Leadership and Arbitrary Positions of Power
Colin Jenkins · 206 views today · Bosses don't grow on trees. They don't magically appear at your job. They aren't born into their roles. They are created. They are manufactured to fulfill arbitrary positions...
Load More
What's Next
Like us on Facebook?
No Planet for Optimists: Coastal Flooding May Come Sooner and Bigger Than We Think