Thirty-six years ago, Nature magazine featured an article by J. H. Mercer. It said that if we continued to use fossil fuels and pump CO2 into the air, there was a strong risk that humanity would be responsible for melting the of Antarctic ice sheet. This week, NASA confirmed that we have gone so far down this path, that even with a radical decrease in our production of greenhouse gasses, it is no longer possible to stop the destruction of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. The glaciers there contain enough ice to raise global sea level by 4 feet (1.2 meters). That is the minimum rise in sea level we can expect in the century or two.
Even if the city of New Orleans could be kept safe with some system of levees, or raised on pilings like Venice, Italy, there’s simply no way that it would be safe from large storms and hurricanes. Miami is already dealing with problems caused by the eight inches of sea level rise that occurred during the 20th century.
An interactive graphic from the New York times shows the impact of sea level rise on various US cities, with settings of 5, 12, and 25 feet. Remember that the NASA predictions show that five feet is essentially the least we can expect since we now know that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is doomed to disappear.
Anyone hoping for a technological solution has to face one problem no matter what kind of engineering advances we can assume: who will pay for it? Wealthier states can’t be expected to bail out the poorer ones, as most of them have cities (New York, Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco, etc.) that will all be facing ocean encroachment as well. Globally, climate change is already costing $1.2 trillion / year, and we’ve hardly begun to see the kind of effects that will be triggered by significant sea level rise.
Even if the 97% of climate scientists are wrong that the change is caused by human activity, change is happening. The argument that climate change might be caused by sunspots, aliens, or gay marriage is a smoke screen that allows politicians to continue to take millions of dollars from oil and gas interests and lie to their constituents.
The only way to get something done is to elect people to acknowledge the issue. Here’s a list of people we can vote out of office because they’re either too ignorant to accept the facts, or they’ve sold their votes to the highest bidder rather than representing what we the people need from them.