Climate change is heralding a new age of unpredictable weather and changing worldwide topography. We don’t know what will happen as we deal with the consequences of our excessive fossil fuel use. What we do know is that climate change is not some distant reality. It’s happening now, and it’s happening faster in some areas than in others.
One of the more concrete concerns associated with global climate change is sea level rise. We know warming the planet is causing the oceans to rise. What we don’t know is how much, how soon or how to stop it. The reality is, we can’t halt climate change altogether. We’ve gone too far for that, and our current CO2 levels are at or above 410 parts per million. That’s far above what we need to maintain to have a stable global temperature. Since CO2 takes anywhere from 20 to 200 years for a majority of the gas to disappear from the atmosphere, we’ve already done the damage. Now, we’re facing the question of what we can do about it.
The first and most important thing to do is evaluate and determine which areas are most at risk for increased floods. Rising ocean levels will push people out of their homes, forcing them to relocate. Flooding of low-lying wetlands and sanctuaries is a serious concern, and native species will struggle to find suitable habitats in their forced migrations. The salt water can also contaminate underground aquifers that are close to the coast, as well as damaging the soil.
On top of that, ocean surges will become stronger and more devastating, hitting areas that were safe five years earlier. One study predicts coastal flooding may increase by 50 percent by 2050. Some islands that are low enough may vanish entirely, and islands that don’t may have their land mass drastically reduced. Another study found that with enough meltwater, the oceans could rise enough to completely submerge London.
While carbon dioxide is the main greenhouse gas people talk about because of its long lifespan, there are others that also contribute to climate change. These are often shorter-lived gases like methane, which only remains in the air for about 12 years. These gases, dubbed “short-lived climate pollutants,” are not as big a factor in the long term, but they still contribute to climate change. By slowing or eliminating their output, we can mitigate sea level rise.
To fight sea level rise, we need to address the areas that are warming the most quickly. The Arctic is especially at risk. In some cases, the Arctic may be warming twice as fast as the rest of the world. Arctic ice also has the highest risk of turning to meltwater — such as the Greenland ice sheet, which is the one that could flood London.
One study found reducing soot and methane production by about 30 to 60 percent could slow sea level rise by a whopping 18 percent. That’s a significant difference, and could give people and animals more time to adjust to the rapidly changing environment. Reducing emissions could be incredibly beneficial for the millions who live in coastal cities like New York City, London and Miami, among others.
The downside is that limiting these short-term pollutants can slow sea level rise, but it can’t reverse the process of climate change. To do that, we need to find ways to remove CO2 and other pollutants from the air at a faster rate than we can put them in. At the rate we are currently producing, that is next to impossible. But it’s not stopping anyone from trying!
The ocean is the biggest carbon sink on the planet. The only reason CO2 doesn’t hang around in the atmosphere for hundreds of years is that the sea sucks it up. An increase in CO2 means the oceans are becoming more acidic, which is also killing off marine life. We know nothing soaks up CO2 the way plants do. That’s why people are seriously looking at manufacturing vast kelp farms, both to harvest for food and to help reduce CO2 in the air and oceans. Enough farms may eventually make a global difference, but only if people take a real interest in the product.
Besides everyone cutting down on emissions, individual cities may be able to engineer their way out of danger. Some of the ideas people are now exploring are nothing short of inspired. In the Netherlands, floating neighborhoods and farms are reminiscent of the movie Waterworld.
Dubai and the UAE have been creating human-made islands for a while now, although the UAE is the only country to have completed the project. That knowledge of how to create a livable space where there wasn’t one could help countries and islands regain some of their landmasses.
We might be stuck with climate change for now, but that doesn’t mean we should give up. We can still mitigate the damage we do, fight sea level rise and decrease the extremes we experience as a result. Since the problem is already here, we might as well try to make it a little bit better.