September 23, 2007

Adventures on the High Seas

The AP interviewed two dozen climate experts and found a lot of people who believe that sea levels are going to rise at least a meter in the intermediate future, "regardless of any future action to curb greenhouse gases." If so, a rise that big would swamp a big chunk of the U.S. coastline—areas that are seriously at risk include Jamestown, the Louisiana wetlands, parts of Florida, North Carolina, Texas, South Carolina, and so on. Most surprisingly, even John Christy, who often gets hyped in skeptic circles, seems to think we should prepare for a meter's worth of rising seas. (It's unclear exactly what he means, though.)

Now, a couple things: Even if a one-meter rise is likely to happen regardless of what we do about greenhouse gases, that doesn't mean we shouldn't bother taking action. After all, the rate of sea-level rise matters—a one-meter rise that took place over 50 years would be much, much more catastrophic than a one-meter rise over, say, two centuries (which would at least gives us some time to adapt). And, of course, there's always the high likelihood that sea levels could rise even higher than a meter, if CO2 levels continue increasing without end. Not a happy thought.

(As a sidenote, yes, these scientists are leaning toward the alarmist end of things, and this isn't a "consensus" judgment. On the other hand, skeptics like Bjorn Lomborg love to say that the IPCC only predicted, at worst, a rise of eight inches by the end of the century. That is certainly false, seeing as how the IPCC explicitly said they weren't including "the full effect of changes in ice flow" in their prediction. Maybe that's well-known by now, but seeing as how Lomborg got to peddle this line on the Colbert Report recently without being challenged, it's worth hitting this again and again.)
-- Brad Plumer 5:30 PM || ||