Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Cost Of Rising Seas

For those who don't live on a seacoast, rising oceans mean little -- unless you put the issue in dollars and cents terms. Tim Radford, who was the science editor for The Guardian  for twenty five years, does just that:

The rising seas’ cost may be $27 trillion a year in U.S. dollars for the world by 2100 if it fails to meet the UN’s 2ºC global warming limit by then, with sea level rise of, at its worst, almost six feet (nearly two meters), new research says.
A study led by the UK’s National Oceanography Centre (NOC) says the worldwide cost of flooding caused by rising sea levels, at their median level, could by 2100 be $14 trillion, if governments miss the United Nations target of keeping the rise in global temperatures, caused by unremitting fossil fuel use, to less than 2ºC above pre-industrial levels. But the extent and cost could be much higher.

It's not just that the financial costs are staggering.  Huge segments of humanity are looking into the maw catastrophe:

Svetlana Jevrejeva of the NOC is the study’s lead author. She said: “More than 600 million people live in low-elevation coastal areas, less than 10 meters above sea level. In a warming climate, global sea level will rise due to the melting of land-based glaciers and ice sheets, and from the thermal expansion of ocean waters. So sea level rise is one of the most damaging aspects of our warming climate.”

But, more than that, the poorest among us will pay the most:

Using World Bank income groups (high, upper-middle, lower-middle and low-income countries), they then assessed the impact of sea level rise in coastal areas from a global perspective.
The researchers also found that it was upper-middle income countries such as China that would see the largest increase in flood costs, while the richest ones would suffer the least, because of the high levels of protection infrastructure they already enjoyed. The research is published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

So we in the West blindly stumble into the future. An American president claims it's all a hoax. And, besides, wealth has its privileges.

Image: Progressive Charlestown


The Mound of Sound said...

The problem common to these articles is their focus - out to 2100. That undermines any popular sense of urgency. 2100 - my grandkids will probably be gone by then. I don't have a name I can associate with 2100. The issue is abstract, academic.

We need to discuss what may likely befall humanity in 2100 but we also need to include what we can expect in 10 years, 20 years, thirty, fifty - something more mentally tangible, more apt to gain traction, less likely to be forgotten in minutes.

Sea level rise is one of several climate change impacts that bring a powerful synergy to the collective problem. Imagine a segment of the population uprooted, put to migration. There's a term for this that we tend to associate with war zones, "internally displaced people" or IDPs. These are people whose traditional areas have become unviable. SLR will be one cause, especially along America's eastern seaboard and Gulf coast. Florida and Louisiana are in trouble because of SLR compounded by subsidence. A lot of southern Florida is subsiding. New Orleans is in major trouble. (So too are parts of Vancouver's Lower Mainland).

Other climate/weather extremes, rapidly becoming our new normal - heat, cold, drought, flood, etc. - will add to the IDP problem. IDPs will basically head in the same direction as we're witnessing in the exodus of coastal marine life - poleward.

IDPs in Bangladesh are one thing. IDPs in developed nations quite another. For most people their home is their major asset. Homes lost to SLR tend to be a net loss for the owner. Their wealth is taken by the sea. The young will be most resilient, most able to relocate and start over. The old, that's a much different story. Even on affluent nations, the burden of IDPs can be massive, especially in this era of "everyday low taxes."

Here's a scenario. Imagine America struggling to support a northward migration of IDPs. How welcoming will it be to mass migration out of Central America seeking the same thing those American IDPs are pursuing. Europe could be facing a similar dilemma.

There's another reason for narrowing our focus to the next 30 to 50 years. You can better predict what to expect in the mid-range. This allows you to analyze the problems, consider responses, adopt policies and begin preparation that will probably take one or more decades to implement.

We have to begin this process now. We've already wasted too much time in which we've seen options foreclosed.

Owen Gray said...

Climate change is simply an abstract term for many people, Mound. What we need are pictures -- the kind that are worth a thousand words. The devastation after Hurricane Katrina -- and the lack of response to it -- was one such picture. The Fort MacMurray Halocaust was another. Those kinds of images make climate change real.

Rural said...

We have seen the 'panic' (and the lack of ability and will to deal with it) by 'civilized' nations by the exodus from the middle east 'war' and 'genocide' just imagine what happens when the livable land around world wide coasts become 'unlivable'!
(I put those comments inside '===' because I simply don't know how to express what is happening to our world and the reaction to it by what seems to be an increasing volume of 'brain dead leaders'!

Anonymous said...

Yes, photos can help but the climate change deniers have long been ready for that one too.”There’s always been hurricanes, we’ve always had forest fires”. Add to that list floods, droughts, etc. Same story. Try to explain the increased number or severity of these phenomena, they’re not interested. What does interest them however, is not having to pay one extra cent to mitigate what are seen as bogus concerns dreamt up by elites, ivory tower scientists, duped politicians. Forget about any idea of the importance of collectivity. Me, me, me all the way. And guys like Doug Ford seize the moment.
Corporate media are no help either. Case in point: Through endless media coverage, we are made to feel good about the huge efforts to save twelve young men from a flooded cave in Thailand, which of course is positive. But, at the same time, how many innocent young people died in the senseless war in Yemen or refugee children drowned in the Mediterranean Sea while fleeing starvation. Likely a lot more than twelve. And the media coverage of this; scant to non-existent.
I might of had some hope of real climate change mitigation when Trump pulled the US out of the Paris Accords (not perfect, but better than nothing) and the remaining nations would have agreed to apply a 50% tariff on any exports from America to compensate. But they simply shrugged. I mean it was the US after all.
So, on the climate change front, all in all, very discouraging, I’m afraid. Oh well, at least the TSX is at record levels....and it’s a beautiful summer day. Life is good! Mac

Toby said...

It's not just "America struggling to support a northward migration of IDPs. How is Canada going to handle it? There is no evidence that Canada intends in any way to defend its border with the US, not even a little bit.

Owen Gray said...

We know that climate change will cause mass migration, Rural. And we have plenty of evidence that we can't -- or won't -- deal with that kind of migration. It does not take a genius to see what's coming. But our leaders are willfully blind. They'll let someone else deal with the problem.

Owen Gray said...

The cave rescue is a superb story about what we can achieve through intelligence and international cooperation, Mac. But it's a relatively "small" story. When we face big problems -- with global implications -- we have a hard time getting our heads around the problems.

Owen Gray said...

It's going to take planning, Toby -- the kind of careful planning involved in the cave rescue. But there's not a lot of evidence that countries aren't doing that kind of planning. There's lots of panic, but little else.