Academic papers have been coming in for decades reporting that the level of Polar Ice both in the North Pole and Antarctica are at their lowest levels in millions of years. In a study, it was found that a new Ice age has been delayed for another 50,000 years thanks to man-made climate change, however, this data is useless if we don’t put into the context of its effects on people.
You might be tempted to say that the melting of icebergs the size of Germany in the bottom of the world could hardly affect most people and that would be wrong. The increasingly rapid melting of the ice caps would spell disaster for the billions of people who live on the coastline and even more urgent for low-lying countries like the Maldives, Bangladesh and the Netherlands.
Even the melting of a handful of ice shelves such as the Pine Island Glacier, one of the most rapidly melting glaciers in Antarctica, can cause a minimum of a one-meter rise in global sea levels by 2050. This rapid melting is caused primarily by Greenhouse Gas emissions and experts say that at this point humanity would be lucky to get away with only one-meter sea level rise.
Now you might also say that a one-meter rise isn’t that much water. Well, sadly you’re wrong. Imagine a glass of water; now imagine filling that glass with ice until it overflows and spills. This is what we are doing to the Earth’s ocean level and it would have a disastrous effect on human activity in the world.
80% of the world’s population live near coastlines. That’s six billion people who would be potentially displaced due to rising sea levels and a majority of the world’s economic activity. Imagine if New York is flooded year round; it would have to be abandoned. 8.4 million people would lose their homes and hundreds of billions of dollars in GDP would be lost.
But enough about what ifs and future disaster scenarios too boring to be directed by Roland Emmerich or Michael Bay, let’s talk about the here and now. Let’s talk about Bangladesh.
Bangladesh is a very low lying country and large parts of it are at sea level. It is a country of 161 million people and its capital Dhaka has a population density of 115,000 people per square miles; for perspective, Manhattan has a density of just half of Dhaka’s.
Dhaka is a city of slums and climate refugees. Thousands of people from the country’s low-lying coastal areas are evacuating to the city, driven by sinking farmland and disappearing into Dhaka’s huge slums, unemployed, disease-ridden and crime filled. In many ways, the oceans are not the only glass of water being overfilled and spilling its contents.
Bangladesh produces 0.3 percent of emissions but are paying for it with massive losses of land to rising ocean levels with more than 17% of its land expected to be inundated, displacing 18 million people with nowhere to go but deeper into the country’s less agricultural interior as the Ganges Delta which most of the country sits on, is one of the most fertile places on Earth, shortly to be lost to climate change.
There are dozens of examples of disaster about to strike in all parts of the world. From Dhaka to Venice to Florida, the price tag for unrestrained economic growth is the loss of massive tracts of land and the potential displacement of hundreds of millions as most of the world’s population lives on the coastlines.
In other words, climate refugees. A movement of humanity so massive as to be almost beyond comprehension in its scope and reach.
No mistake this will happen. 17% is realistic and it could go much worse. The 1 degree Celsius change in the global temperature can cause massive upheaval, from the loss in grain yields to rising oceans, we are inadvertently changing the planet in ways we can hardly predict and the world is eating through our carbon budget in record pace.
The catalyst for change is urgency. Climate change is a silent threat, urgent but largely invisible. We cannot wait until New York is flooded and for Jakarta to be inundated year round until we begin changing the way we interact with our planet.
Make no mistake. The world does not need saving, We do.