Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Water Is Rising

I have always felt that to a greater or lesser degree, we are all responsible for our brothers and sisters. While they may not be able to hold us legally responsible, we should always act as if we are morally responsible for them…because we are.

As we know, sea levels are rising due to climate changes melting polar ice caps along with other contributing environmental factors. What my early readers may remember is that we already have the world's first environmental refugees. Not many people know of them, their plight, or their pending relocation. Please see my October 1, 2008 blog “The World’s First Climate Change Refugees.”

A new study has identified the country most at risk from rising sea levels even as rich nations are being requested to help vulnerable populations. The country declared most vulnerable stands to have 10% of its population displaced with 10% of its economic power crippled and 10% of its towns and cities swamped by the end of this century. The World Bank has named this country as the nation with the most to lose as global warming forces the oceans to reclaim the land. That country is Vietnam. Surprised?

You shouldn’t be. There has already been plenty of warning concerning rising sea levels. An entire village in Alaska is being relocated because the Bering Sea is literally clawing the land back into the ocean a little at a time. Not many people have heard of it. Not much information has been released about it.

It’s Newtok, Alaska (pop. 320), an Inuit village that squishes when you walk on the ground. Walking on the ground in Newtok is like walking in mud – the houses end up tilted at odd angles as they sink into the mire. This is because the sea is silently invading the permafrost causing it to become unstable and recede at a rate of 90’ a year into cold Arctic waters. However, 320 lives is hardly newsworthy plus it might cause enough pressure for someone to finally have to take financial responsibility; and, relocate these people before the ocean does.

Now, everyone is familiar with Vietnam. It's a fairly big player on the world scene so I am fairly certain that if the ocean rose and covered 10% of the land, someone somewhere would notice.

Global warming has finally come to the point where it can no longer be ignored. What would be some of the ramifications if waters rose high enough to claim 10% of Vietnam?

A rise in the sea level of just one meter (3.28 ft) would flood over 7% of their agricultural land and destroy nearly 30% of their wetlands, says the World Bank. Some climate experts, such as Jim Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, feels that an estimate of one meter is too conservative. He argues that the estimate should be closer to several meters.

A one-meter rise in the water level would impact about 0.3% of the territory, or 194,000 sq. km., of 84 developing countries according to a quote from the World Bank published in the journal Climatic Change. That doesn’t sound so bad – 0.3% - how much is that really? It’s enough to affect 56 million people.

Heather Coleman, senior climate change policy adviser with Oxfam, says: "Helping vulnerable people cope with the effects of climate change is desperately needed today because they already face increasingly severe and ever-worsening climate change impacts."

Oxfam is calling for at least $50 bn (£33.85 bn) a year to be diverted from international carbon trading schemes into adaptation efforts. "With a global financial crisis unfolding, these mechanisms could raise enough money from polluters without governments having to dip into national treasuries," Coleman says. "Many negotiators agree that this is one of the more practical approaches. Billions of dollars can be raised and invested to prevent future climate change and to help poor people adapt to the negative impacts of global warming."

Oxfam says poor countries need help to upgrade national flood early-warning systems, plant mangrove "bio-shields" along coasts to diffuse storm waves, and grow drought-tolerant crops.

"Poor people around the world bear the brunt of climate change, and yet they are least responsible for global warming. Even during tempestuous financial times, rich countries can and should help poor people to cope. We can't afford to exchange a short-term saving for a long-term disaster."

More in the next blog. Stay tuned.

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