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Dark Water Rising


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Source: Brave New Europe

From physics 101, we know that water expands when it is heated. As the earth heats up, this will happen to our oceans. But by far, more serious is the melting of the world’s ice. Once the earth’s ice sheets are melting, events like Hurricane Sandy that hit New York in 2012 will only become more ferocious.

NASA’s James Hansen – one of the prime scientists on global warming – has warned that the heating of the planet can result in water levels rising up to three meters. Throughout the 20th century, the oceans have already risen by 15 centimetres. 15cm appears to be a relatively small number, but it is getting more serious when considering that today’s sea levels are rising twice as fast as they did during the 20th century. Suddenly, 15cm becomes 30cm – a foot of water. In The Water Will Come, Jeff Goodell says,

Even if we replaced every SUV on the planet with a skateboard and every coal plant with a solar panel and could magically reduce global carbon pollution to zero by tomorrow, because of the heat that has already built up in the atmosphere and the oceans, the seas would not stop rising—at least until the earth cooled off, which could take centuries. This doesn’t mean that cutting CO2 is pointless.

Today, it might be late to turn this thing around. Very likely, one needs to say good-bye to the beach where you kissed your first girlfriend. Most likely, the St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, Italy will be flooded just as NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre and worst of all, so will Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago. Meanwhile, millions of people will be displaced globally – mostly in developing countries. Compared to what is in store, the Syrian war refugee crisis (2011-present) with its 5.6 million refugees will look like a primary school drama.

Much of the water comes from two events: the thawing of ice in Antarctica and Greenland. This process is well on the way. During the summer of 2012, a heatwave warmed the Arctic much more than climate models had foreseen. In Greenland – which Denmark did not want to sell to Donald Trump – ice-sheets and glaciers have already started to melt like ice-cream on a hot summer’s day. Absurd as it may sound, this has led to a new form of disaster tourism. People want to see the ice before it melts and by doing so are further contributing to the melting.

What we have to expect in the coming decades is on epic proportions. During Greenland’s heatwave, the Watson River floodwaters were ten times more than London’s River Thames. This will continue, and it will drown many coastal areas around the world, including Miami, New York and Venice.

Unlike in your private life, in global warming size matters. Antarctica is about seven times bigger than Greenland. Of course, it contains much more ice and therefore more water will come. While it could take thousands of years, the entire continent could melt. Whether slow or fast, the earth’s sea levels will rise by approximately 60 meters – eventually. Yet, the water coming from the melting of Greenland will take significantly less time. This means that sea levels rising to nearly seven meters aren’t out of the question at all. To appreciate the scale, if all 7.7bn human beings jumped into the ocean now, sea levels would rise by a microscopic 0.0254 millimetre. Nobody will notice our combined dipping into the water. However, we will notice the water that comes from the melting of the ice in Greenland and Antarctica.

This process is well on the way. The water is already coming. NASA says that Greenland is losing three times as much ice today as it did during the 1990s. In twenty years from now, the summer ice in the Arctic is likely to vanish entirely. This is good news for container shipping but very bad news for everyone living in a coastal city or town. Ten years ago, Greenland was already losing an iceberg twice the size of Manhattan every year. NASA’s website climate.nasa.gov makes this abundantly clear even though Donald Trump will think it is fake news.

NASA’s science tells us as much. Science also tells us that the expansion of the oceans caused by the warming of the oceans has contributed to about half of the rise in the sea levels over the past fifty years. In the future, that proportion will decline as melting ice coming from Greenland and Antarctica will have a substantially more significant impact. It is the melting of ice that causes the water to come and water levels to rise, not the expansion of water because it warms up.

That the water will come and global warming is on the way can be seen from what is known as the Keeling Curve. The curve measures the rise of carbon dioxide concentration in the air since the year 1958. Today, it stands a 414 ppm (October 2020). This causes global warming, rising water in coastal areas, droughts in other areas, bushfire as well as dying forests – with or without bushfire.

Global warming also affects trees in various ways. Stressed pine trees, for example, become vulnerable to pine bark beetles. They bore into tree trunks of heat-weakened trees. Slowly, they kill them, and they turn into tinder. With a spark, trees ignite, and forests burn. By early October 2020, 8,155 fires had burned 4,142,656 acres or 1,676,473 hectares in California. It was more than 4% of the state’s 100 million acres of land. All together, it made 2020 the largest wildfire season ever recorded in California’s modern history.

These bushfires will inturn turbo-charge global warming leading to more ice melting, the 6th Mass Extinction, and the rise of the Apocalypse of the Anthropocene. What NASA calls “After Larson B” describes the change after the world’s largest ice-sheet in Greenland collapsed. For many scientists, this event marked a turning point. Global warming is charging up. The water will come.

Much of the hard science of global warming does indeed scare the hell out of many. In the end, scientists make predictions based on the rising water levels they can measure today. And not all predictions will be correct. This is good news. The bad news is that despite some uncertainty in some of the studies, the error bars are all pointing to higher sea-levels than anticipated – not less. This means, when they get it wrong, it will not be to our advantage. Reading through the facts and figures of global warming is truly terrifying.

Others, like Jorge Pérez, known as the eight-hundred- pound gorilla of Miami developers – react differently. When told about the rising floods that will impact on Miami, the man who developed one out of five apartments in Miami simply said, “Besides, by that time, I’ll be dead, so what does it matter?” This may well be a simplistic view of a money-hungry developer, but many others take a long-term view, thinking about their children and their children’s children. By the spring of 2016, Pérez’s Miami developments suffered from flooding at high tide, and national newspapers, magazines, and TV news programmes started reporting on the risks of rising sea-levels in the city.

Michael Bloomberg – former New York mayor and billionaire – runs a Risky Business Project. It estimated that between $15bn and $23bn worth of Florida real estate would likely be underwater by the year 2050. By 2100, the value of the drowned property could go as high as $680bn. This is serious money given that the average US house price is $230,000. For one million dollars, you can comfortably buy four houses, and for one billion dollars, you can buy almost 4,400 houses. Even given the fact that Florida’s house prices are higher than the average, that is still a lot of homes destroyed when – not “if” – the water comes.

When the water comes, two things are essential: money and elevation. Florida, New York, Venice, Rotterdam and the Netherlands as a whole, for example, have money – not elevation. Bangladesh has neither. In Venice, for example, substantial floods only hit the city about ten times a year in 1940. Today, it is 75-times a year. The water is coming. Similarly, the flood gates at London’s Thames river were closed four times during the 1980s. By the year 2000, they were also closed 75-times – between its 1982 inauguration and today (October 2020) the trend is upward.

Meanwhile, in New York, 2012’s Hurricane Sandy flooded more than 88,000 buildings and killed forty-four people. It caused over $19bn in damages and lost economic activity. With the exception of Donald Trump‘s view, “it’s starting to get cool, you just watch” (September 2020), for many New Yorkers it was a truly transformative event, and it demonstrates what the city will face in the coming decades. Today, New York still has 72,000 buildings worth a cool $130bn located in flood zones.

Beyond that, there is a $4bn proposal to “waterproof” New York’s LaGuardia Airport which is located in a flood zone. New York’s mayor Bill De Blasio has taken global warming seriously saying that a “six feet sea level rise is a pretty apocalyptic scenario for New York”. New York’s Columbia University found that a merger of rising seas with a powerful storm can wreck the New York’s trains and subways, flooding tunnels and inundating even above-ground equipment. That happened when Hurricane Sandy hit New York.

For the inhabitants of earth’s low-lying islands – Bermuda, Maldives, Marshall Islands, etc. – global warming and climate negotiations aren’t about economies, competitiveness, and power plays. They were about life and death as they will suffer disproportionately. They have neither of the two crucial ingredients to mitigate global warming: money and elevation. There simply is no land to migrate to. Instead, rising saltwater will destroy their harvests, freshwater reservoirs, soil, and even graveyards will be affected as coffins are pushed up by water. Globally, there are well above a billion people who live in coastal zones with low elevation.

Today, no one knows the exact number of people who will be forced to migrate in the coming decades. Current estimates range from 25 million up to 1 billion by the mid-century – the most credible estimate projects about 200 million climate refugees by 2050. Before the 2016 Paris meeting, there were moves to set up a UN working group tasked with recognising and helping with relocations and compensation. But Australian negotiators – under the instruction of its conservative prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull – killed that. Australia, who is in a happy coalition with Donald Trump, would – most likely – also kill a proposal asking countries that have contributed to global warming to pay their fair share:

 

Country

Historical Emissions

(1850-2011)

Intake of global warming

refugees (100 million by 2050)

USA

27%

27 million

EU (incl.UK):

25%

25 million

China:

11%

11 million

Russia:

8%

8 million

Japan:

4%

4 million

 

As politicians and people from those countries that are going to be flooded and politicians from nations that have caused it, fight over contributions, refugees, blame and guilt, there is one institution that is acutely aware of the coming changes. The US Army and perhaps even more so, the US Navy, seriously considered rising water levels. Many of the navy’s facilities are – almost by definition – located in flood-affected areas. The US navy’s Norfolk base is the largest naval fleet in the world, and it will have to relocate. Overall, military readiness is already being impacted, and it is only going to be more dire for the navy.

The former US Secretary of State John Kerry once asked Captain J. Pat Rios about the life expectancy of the Norfolk base, Captain J. Pat Rios, said, “twenty to fifty years”. This marked an astonishing event in America’s military history. For the first time, a US naval officer told the secretary of state that this enormous naval base, home to six aircraft carriers and the key to operations in Europe and the Middle East, would be virtually inoperable in as little as twenty years.

Given the Republican party’s denial of climate change – often seen as a left-wing conspiracy theory – the US Army is forced to talk about the impact of rising water level like immature schoolboys talk about sex, using code words and suggestive language. Despite Republican ideologies, global warming is a subject the US military can ill afford to ignore. Already in the year 2003, the head of the Department of Defense’s Office of Net Assessment, warned that the threat to global stability posed by rapid climate change vastly eclipses that of terrorism. Undeterred, millions of dollars are spent on the wrong issues.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review talks of a multiplier effect. The secretary of defence said that global warming is a real-time issue, not some distant what-if. Global warming is impacting on areas of the world where troops are operating today. The final touch on the issue of global warming was put on by Admiral Samuel Locklear, who was in charge of all US armed forces in the Pacific. He is one of the most respected men in the US military. Locklear also had one of the most challenging jobs watching over China and North Korea.

In 2013, a journalist asked the admiral what he believed was the most significant long-term security threat to the region. He didn’t talk about the nuclear fantasies of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un or a cyber-war with China. Admiral Locklear talked about sea-level rise and increasingly monstrous storms that could wipe out a small nation. Locklear’s comments were gripping. The man is not a tree-hugging greenie. Locklear is a decorated warfighter, who has the responsibility of protecting US interests in the Pacific.

Admiral Locklear’s sphere of duty included seven of the world’s ten largest standing armies and five of the seven nations that have nuclear arms. In the end, what all this means is that despite clowns like Donald Trump and global warming deniers, the US army takes the rising ocean levels very seriously. It is serious about its capabilities, it is serious about science, and it is serious about the science of global warming.

Finally, Harvard/Columbia/Princeton astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson put it in the correct words when saying, “the good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it”. What the science of global warming has in store for us when the water comes, can be seen in Jeff Goodell’s The Water Will Come – Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilised World and his 2019 talk on rising water, The Long Now Foundation.

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