By John Englander
Most of us today strive to be more “green” and sustainable. Efforts range from reducing our energy use, our “carbon footprint”, to advancing the use of renewable energy and recycled materials. Good as these efforts are, they often distract us from recognizing the brutal reality, what I call the “coming coastal crisis.”
Sea level will keep rising even if everyone on the planet is 100% green and sustainable. In fact even if we somehow magically figured out how to make energy without any carbon emissions, and capped CO2 levels at the current 400 ppm, the oceans will still get higher, changing our coastlines. These are the facts.
Sea level has moved up and down in long term cycles with the ice ages, roughly 350 feet, every hundred thousand years. For the last few thousand years global temperature, sea level and the shoreline were quite stable, fooling us into thinking they were fixed in place.
Over the last century or two, higher amounts of greenhouse gases have trapped enough extra heat to raise the average ocean and air temperature by 1.5 degrees F (0.85 C). About 90% of the extra heat trapped in the atmosphere by the greenhouse gases is stored in the sea. A warmer planet means that the ice sheets and glaciers will continue to melt, raising global sea level.
We have now broken out of the natural pattern that goes back several million years.Because sea level has not been higher in 120,000 years, many doubt it will happen.
Regardless of what we want to believe, sea level will get higher decade by decade for centuries. Ice melts at 32 degrees regardless of political ideology. We can slow the rate of rise–which we should do, but we can not stop it. If we do not deal with the energy challenge, the oceans will rise even faster, moving the coastline inland even more quickly.
The fact is that we need to begin adapting to the rising sea level and the shorelines that are just starting to shift. Help share the understanding that we must begin adapting to the new era of rising seas. At the same time, let’s work to slow the rate of warming–the popular effort to be more sustainable in our everyday lives, and to find technology for low carbon means of producing energy.
John Englander is President at the International Sea Level Institute. John was a speaker at GLOBE 2014. Notes John to GLOBE-Net “The interconnectedness between rising sea level and “sustainability” is more complicated than usually appreciated.” This post was originally published by John some months ago, and is reprinted here with the permission of the author. See below an interview with John at GLOBE 2014.