Rising sea levels – when denialists face reality

Dr. Gary Robertshaw

October 2019

It is with some irony that the people who previously argued that global warming was a ‘myth’ or ‘conspiracy’ now begrudgingly accept that the climate is changing rapidly, with the predictions of previously vilified scientists and climatologists proving ominously true. In the face of stark evidence from melting of the Arctic to dramatic weather impacts to huge losses of sheet ice from Greenland and the Antarctic, the argument of the denialists has been to re-position the debate into one that views climate change as part of a natural cycle, citing previous warmer spells in the Earth’s history. However, as Richard Feynman once famously stated ‘nature cannot be fooled’; the Earth’s climate is undeniably warming and there is compelling evidence to show that the warming has been largely caused by human activity. 1

 

Rising sea levels

Accelerating sea level rises

With warming comes rising sea levels, which occur in two ways. Firstly, warmer water expands to create greater overall volume. Secondly, melting land ice flows into the oceans. More recent NASA and European satellite data suggest that the rate of global sea level rise is not steady, but is in fact accelerating. This acceleration of sea level rise is believed to be driven principally by melting in Greenland and Antarctica. The data conservatively predict a rise of 65cm by 2100, which would cause serious problem for coastal cities and low lying populations. 2

The satellite data is supported by a study published in Nature Communications, which predicts that 300 million people will be affected globally by flooding each year by 2050. This triples a previous estimate of global vulnerability to sea level rise and coastal flooding. At such levels of flooding whole cities and coastlines would be reshaped across the globe. 3

Closer to home, accelerating sea level rises will claim homes in the UK’s coastal areas, particularly soft, eroding shores and low-lying areas in East Anglia, Lincolnshire and Somerset. 4

On the move

The evidence for climate change and its impact will no longer reside in esoteric academic studies and projections, remote from the understanding and concerns of the general population. It will manifest itself in real-life consequences within a generation displacing millions of people from their homes. And it’s already happening. In Quebec the Canadian government has now adopted a policy of relocating some communities affected by flooding rather than rebuilding. The 850 inhabitants of the Welsh town of Fairbourne have been informed that the government will not spend any money protecting this community from rising sea levels after 2054. The Global Commission on Adaptation estimates that the number of UK homes at risk of flooding could rise from 370,000 to 1.2 million in the next 60 years, forcing whole communities to move to higher ground. 5

 

Flooding

“Most people would rather deny a hard truth than face it”

The displacement of millions of people from their homes due to rising sea levels, the inevitable refugee crisis and submerged cities is apparently not enough to convince some people in the UK of the realities of global warming.

Renewables now provide nearly a third of UK power in the UK, from which roughly half is obtained from wind energy. Electricity generation from onshore and offshore wind in the UK is critical to decarbonising the economy and reducing the impact of climate change. In fact, wind energy now represents an economically viable source of new electricity in the UK, more cost-effective than gas, nuclear and coal. 6

Investment in wind energy technology and falling costs have helped to spur its adoption across Europe, the US and China, and offers the potential for global decarbonisation and a glimmer of light for a reversal of greenhouse gas emission trends.

Yet the trend towards renewables has met opposition from protestors and anti-wind farm activism. Ironically, some of whom stand to lose their homes as sea level rises accelerate. Bizarrely, the same protestors seem indifferent to importing oil from Saudi Arabia, burning coal and fracking whilst offering no alternative to the use of fossil fuels. Perhaps less surprising when we consider that a number of scientifically-illiterate leaders continue to espouse the view that climate change is cyclical and unrelated to human activities.

 

  1. https://royalsociety.org/topics-policy/projects/climate-change-evidence-causes/question-2/
  2. https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2680/new-study-finds-sea-level-rise-accelerating/
  3. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-019-12808-z
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/26/rising-sea-levels-will-claim-homes-around-english-coast-report-warns
  5. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/coastal-homes-must-be-sacrificed-to-the-sea-the-global-commission-on-adaptation-says-0cjpfm7t8
  6. https://www.renewableuk.com/page/WindEnergy