SOMEONE ELSE’S WINDOWS: Melting Point: Grappling with Sea Level Rise (3)

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/20 May) — If, as scientists say, there’s no stopping the collapse of ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland as global warming has reached a threshold no thanks to ever rising greenhouse gas emissions, then there’s only one logical conclusion: Coastal cities and other settlements have to be abandoned –except, of course, if countries have enough resources for strong dams like those in the Netherlands. Perhaps this frightening scenario has made many of us realize rather belatedly that we should have slipped our fingers into that tiny crack decades before climate’s dam came close to bursting.

The scientists clarified the meltdown and subsequent rise in sea level worldwide will not be abrupt but will be spread across many centuries. A study published in the journal Nature Climate Change, as quoted in a news item in (January 14, 2014) said “Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier, the single largest Antarctic contributor to sea-level rise, could add as much as one centimeter to ocean levels within the next 20 years.”

For the short term, this may not be shocking news since one centimeter is just 0.3937 inch. But one thing is sure: the future will see our descendants inherit the impacts of unbridled industrialization. Their only “consolation” is the excitement of redrawing the map of the world. Indeed, centuries hence the face of Mother Earth will have changed. They will be in for more shocks as coastal areas will sink alongside the occurrence of severe weather events which may make typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) look like a dress rehearsal.

In addition, estimates on sea level rise are just that, estimates. Depending on the rates of current and future GHG emissions, the speed at which ice sheets disappear may accelerate faster than previously thought. Scientists said that if the Greenland Ice Sheet completely melts sea level would rise by at least seven meters or 23 feet. Imagine how many coastal cities will rest under the tides once this scenario happens.

At this stage, rich countries may already be mulling adaptation measures with evacuation as the last resort. Yet, considering the enormous amounts needed to fortify cities against sea level rise most government are likely to forego such investment and opt instead for abandonment.

For coastal residents in poor countries like the Philippines hoping for government to come up with alternatives to evacuation is like telling the waves to stop. Our emerging planning culture is negated by a dire lack of resources. (Besides, even if the country were rich enough to build infrastructure to save coastlines from being inundated by seawater much of the money would be lost to graft.)

The problem would be worse in areas where elevated lands are much smaller than lowlands. Since most people tend to converge in the lowlands for livelihood and other activities a lot of readjustment and coping is required to avert the unthinkable impacts of massive displacement. Note that in Mindanao, for instance, the highly urbanized – and therefore thickly populated – cities are in coastal areas due to their proximity to sea ports, a key element in doing business in an archipelagic setting.

If government found itself groping in the aftermath of Yolanda, imagine how it would respond to bigger humanitarian crises. True, the worst won’t happen until after a century or more. But if we feel morally indebted to the future generations inaction is not an option. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at [email protected])