By Stephen Fitzgerald
The fact that we look different is telling us something. We are different. The way we view the world, the way we process information, the way we communicate, the way we do things and what we choose to believe, is all different. As individuals, we have a right to believe what we want whether it’s ideology or some other thing that supports our own agenda. This does not give our democratically elected representatives the right to ignore irrefutable scientific evidence that puts all of society at risk.
We took action against the nuclear threat by building nuclear arsenals as aggressors but also as a defence. Nobody is game to launch the first strike for fear of annihilation. That fear drives a response. If our borders and major cities were under attack we would rally together and respond with all our strength. We are prepared to fight to the death in defence of our families and our country when called to arms.
What is coming is not a myth and it’s not an exaggeration and if you look out to sea, it’s on the horizon right now. Our entire 35,877km of Australian coastline and all our major cities are under threat. What is coming is backed up with hard-core scientific research, analysis, observation and evidence supported by the global scientific community. These are our greatest thinkers, our greatest minds and, they are telling us to act on global warming to avoid catastrophic weather events and rising oceans.
90 percent of the study’s simulations found that global sea-level rise will be between 93 cm (3’1”) and 243 cm (8’) during the 21st century under RCP8.5. As an example, under the high-end 8-foot scenario, impacts would be particularly heavy in the continental U.S., where sea level would rise substantially more than the global average. Due to regional effects driven mainly by land subsidence and gravitational effects linked to ice mass loss from Antarctica, sea-level rise of 9 to 11 feet (3 meters) would be expected along densely populated Gulf and Atlantic coasts. 150 million homes will be permanently flooded globally but it doesn’t stop there. The ocean will keep rising beyond 2100.
The United Nations urges global leaders to act now on climate change or pay a higher price. So, what’s stopping us? Why the inaction from government and big business against this national and international threat? A threat, so profound it has the potential to destroy the natural world and civilization as we know it. Imagine our beaches flooded and gone and a beautiful way of life destroyed along with it. If all land ice melted, sea level would rise approximately 70 meters (230 feet) flooding our major cities. To get a grip on that, the Sydney harbour bridge has a clearance of 49 meters. Is this the future we want for our grandchildren and beyond or, don’t we have the capacity to look a lifetime ahead?
The unprecedented catastrophic weather events we are experiencing, as a result of global warming, are one thing. Clearly, when the cost runs into billions of dollars, as it did in the 2019 Queensland floods, there is an impact on real GDP with the capacity to drive a country into recession. Irrespective of that and irrespective of the loss of life, we can rebuild from floods and bush-fire and to some extent, we can adapt to extremes in weather. It’s a different story with sea level rise and the global displacement of possibly billions of people. If there was ever a case for ‘prevention is better than cure’ then this is it.
Over millions of years of geologic time, sea level has gone through natural cycles, moving up and down 300 – 400 feet, roughly every hundred thousand years. We have now clearly broken out of that natural pattern, usually described as the ice ages. More than two hundred feet of potential sea level rise, are still locked up in the ice sheets and glaciers on Greenland and Antarctica. Even the worst case scenarios show that full meltdown would take perhaps five hundred years on our current path. If we reverse global warming in time, we can prevent the full-blown meltdown.
The oceans have already warmed by approximately 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s one degree Celsius heading to 3 or 4 degree Celsius by 2100. Because of this, sea level rise is happening and is now unavoidable, despite efforts to curb CO2 emissions and slow the warming. Estimates for potential sea level rise this century now range from about three to ten feet (1-3 meters), depending somewhat on how warm the planet gets in the coming decades. In recent years the upper bounds have been raised several times, as Antarctic and Greenland ice melt has been exceeding the previous models and is accelerating faster than predicted.
Geologic records indicate that in the past, during a global warming cycle and between ice ages, sea level rose an average of a foot and a half (50 cm) a decade, and that was happening 14,000 years ago. In four centuries, global sea level rose some sixty-five feet (20 m). We need to get it in our heads that we live on a planet where sea levels can and do, fluctuate by up to 400 feet (120 metres) depending on global average temperature and the ice reservoir. We need to get it in our heads that we can manage this by managing atmospheric CO2 concentration and the other greenhouse gases we pump into the atmosphere that drives our current global warming scenario.
We need an awakening! Catastrophic sea level rise is outside the human experience. It might be seen as a “black swan event” –– something extraordinary that we deny until it has been experienced first hand. Today, average global sea level rise, since 1880 is 23cm but, for the casual observer, it’s lost in the changing of the tides. We can’t see it until we get king tides flooding our streets. It’s easy to understand why we are so apathetic but, it’s not an excuse for inaction, it’s just another part of the challenge.
The future of our civilization, economies, and communities depends on our ability to deal with these challenges. The burden of inaction will fall hardest on coastal dwellers worldwide, but will impact everyone, even those living far inland in terms of food production, water supply and mass migration. The sooner we get educated, plan, and adapt the better. But let’s do it based on what is realistically possible, not some fantastical descriptions that step beyond the reality of the ice sheets and glaciers. The realistic scenarios are scary enough.
Already, sea level rise coupled with extreme tides and severe storms are causing enormous loss of land and coastal infrastructure. With each passing year, the rate of rise accelerates, as does the potential for economic devastation. Yet the damage could be lessened significantly if we have the vision and guidance to plan for this profound change.
The sooner that planners, engineers, architects, lawyers, financiers, legislators, investors, business leaders, and the public become informed, the quicker we can begin to take the necessary actions. With vision, creativity and planning, we can protect our future liveability and sustainability.
The key word, for now, is sustainability. We need a rapid transition to renewable clean energy from the sun, wind and hydro. We desperately need a government with a pro-climate action agenda. We need governments that runs on social conscience rather than narcissism. We need a rapid faze-out of greenhouse gas emitting fossil fuels and, most importantly, we need to think of the future and we need to start thinking of that future right now. The world has just over a decade to get climate action under control.
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