Rising Sea Level

Rising Sea Levels Pose Greater Threat to Cities Than Previously Thought

Scientists have known for some time that global warming will lead to the melting of the ice caps, and in turn the rising of sea levels, threatening coastal cities. But scientists have disagreed over the timing and the extent of the impact of rising sea levels. New research, however, suggests that three times more people than previously thought could be affected by rising sea levels by 2050. The research was conducted by Climate Central, which is based in New Jersey, and was published in Nature Communications.

The new research, which uses advanced techniques based on satellite readings of land elevation, shows that previous predictions about the scope of rising sea levels were too optimistic. According to the new research, 150 million people currently live in areas that by 2050 will be below the high-tide line. Southern Vietnam, for instance, is at risk of disappearing almost entirely. Ho Chi Minh City, the nation’s economic center, could collapse.

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Another country predicted to be strongly impacted by rising sea levels is Thailand, where the city of Bangkok is expected to be all but underwater in 2050. More than 10 percent of Thai residents live on land that will experience inundation in 2050, as do a quarter of Vietnamese residents, totaling more than 20 million people in those two countries alone.

Rising sea levels are expected to affect even those people who do not live in areas prone to flooding, as inundation of economic centers will have a drastic impact on the places that people work and live. Many of the world’s cities developed on coasts, putting them at particular risk for the effects of rising sea levels. Shanghai, for instance, is under direct threat of being consumed by water, as is much of the surrounding area. Mumbai, India’s financial capital and one of the world’s largest cities, is at high risk, as is the ancient city of Alexandria.

Also at risk are places where few people live, but have great historical significance, as they contain artifacts created by humans who lived centuries ago.

While the reality of rising sea levels is all but confirmed, there are measures that cities can take to combat the effects of climate change. Already, 110 million people live in places below the high tide line, as seawalls and other barriers prevent flooding. In order to combat this particular threat of climate change, many of the world’s cities previously unaffected by flooding will have to invest in technologies like seawalls in order to survive the end of the 21st century. As these massive infrastructure projects can be costly and take a long time to complete, particularly vulnerable cities would be wise to make such investments as soon as possible.

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That being said, protective measures can only go so far and are prone to human error, as infamously occurred in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Also at risk are places where few people live, but have great historical significance, as they contain artifacts created by humans who lived centuries ago. Unfortunately, these places are the least likely to be shielded by the effects of rising sea levels over the rest of this century, as the cost of doing so is great and offers little economic return.

Rising sea levels, of course, are not the only effects of climate change. Another major environmental consideration for cities as time progresses is the increasing frequency of extreme weather events, which pose a threat to both infrastructure and human life. Already, these effects are felt in the form of unprecedented, raging wildfires in California, which many experts believe to be exacerbated by the effects of climate change. Additionally, climate change has increased the intensity of hurricanes and other storms, as in the case of Hurricane Dorian, which devastated the Bahamas. While the reality of anthropogenic climate change is not in dispute among reputable scientists, ongoing research continues to reveal the various ways in which climate change affects and will continue to affect human life, oftentimes revealing that the impact will be more severe than previously thought.

Climate Change Protest

TIME Special Report Emphasizes Threat of Climate Change

TIME magazine this week took the unusual step of devoting an entire issue to the subject of climate change, with every story printed in the magazine offering a different take on the subject. The issue, entitled “2050: The Fight for Earth,” recognizes the 30th anniversary of when TIME recognized the endangered Earth instead of their usual person of the year in 1989. The climate-focused edition of the magazine imagines a planet roughly thirty years in the future, exploring various outcomes depending on humanity’s reaction to the crisis through interviews with activists, celebrities, and experts. The editors of TIME suggest that while humanity has woken up to the reality of the crisis, we are ill-equipped to handle it, and hope that devoting an issue to the subject will prompt further discussion and action about reducing the causes of climate change and adapting to its effects.

TIME hopes to bring further attention to the subject with the use of digital media. The magazine’s website hosts a page devoted to the issue, offering links to the stories present in the issue and a link to download an app which grants smartphone users an immersive 3D journey through the Amazon rainforest, including areas which have been destroyed by wildfires, narrated by Jane Goodall. Called TIME Immersive, the app includes a new section devoted to visualizing the Amazon rainforest, and uses augmented reality technology to superimpose models of the rainforest onto real-world environments, allowing the user to view the models from different angles in real-time. As the user explores these virtual environments, Jane Goodall describes the extent and scope of environmental destruction, its various causes, and potential solutions. As the app is free and available for both iOS and Android, it’s worth checking out.

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In one of the issue’s featured articles, Bill McKibben, an author and environmental expert, imagines a future in which humanity has survived the worst effects of climate change, but life on Earth is dramatically different. In the article, McKibben predicts that while humanity has witnessed the destruction of forests in California due to wildfires and other extreme weather events, engineers have succeeded in developing cheap renewable energy in the form of solar panels and wind turbines, which have reduced carbon emissions dramatically. McKibben imagines that the threat of climate change becomes a decisive factor in ensuring a victory for a Democratic presidential candidate in 2020, especially among women, who are disproportionately displaced by climate change worldwide, and young people, who turn out to vote in record numbers. This candidate, McKibben asserts, removes the filibuster in order to pass sweeping, unprecedented legislation to end subsidies for oil and gas companies, tax carbon emissions, and invest in green energy.

The cost of adapting to the effects of climate change is massive

Despite this optimistic view, however, McKibben asserts that the worst effects of delaying action on climate change for several decades are unavoidable and yet to come, and the runaway effect will accelerate global warming and sea level rise. As a result, extreme weather events continue to displace millions of people, creating an unprecedented humanitarian and political crisis, and ancient carcasses will be released from melting ice sheets, releasing germs and diseases once thought extinct. The cost of adapting to the effects of climate change, which includes constructing massive seawalls to deal with sea level rise and building infrastructure to protect against hurricanes and other weather events, is massive, and the overall mood of humanity is changed: though we are thankful we survived climate change, we have a different outlook on man’s dominion over nature and the threat of natural forces.

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Another climate activist, Andrew Blum, gives a different take. Blum, a journalist, describes the various technological innovations that will be necessary for tackling the climate crisis. While continuing to invest in solar and wind is necessary, Blum argues that other approaches must be explored as well. Improving the electricity grid to allow for more interconnection and storage of energy is essential, Blum claims, as is innovating with safer and cleaner nuclear energy options and managing carbon in the atmosphere with sequestration.

As the major stories featured in this week’s issue are available for free online, they are worth taking a look at. TIME’s dedication of an entire issue to climate change reflects the urgency and importance of the problem; and as the climate crisis continues, more and more outlets are likely to follow suit.