Friday, June 5, 2009

Don't Buy that Beachfront Property Just Yet

Numerous reports on a recent revision to the amount of sea level rise expected to result when the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) melts included predictable headlines trumpeting this good news. Except, well, the estimate was revised down from 5-6 meters to 3.3 meters. As Reuters reports, 1.5 meters alone would displace millions of people in Bangladesh. Additionally, under this model, sea levels around North America would rise the most, causing problems for cities such as New York, Washington, and San Francisco. Hooray?

It appears that the revised estimates represent not a brighter future, but slightly less catastrophic future. As someone who would prefer a no-catastrophe future, I can't say that this news is as reassuring as some headlines would suggest. The Telegraph (UK) headlined its article "West Antarctic ice sheet collapse 'exaggerated', scientists say," and conveniently left out quotes from the leader of the team that developed the new estimates in which he noted that even a 1-2 meter rise would be "very, very serious." The problem with presenting new information about climate change as "good" just because it less dire is that it overlooks the fact that even small climate disruptions are going to have major impacts on human life. Scientists keep saying that climate change is serious for a reason. They might need to edit some conclusions from time to time, but that doesn't mean that global warming is just going to mean a slightly longer summer. Just ask a farmer who got too much rain at the wrong time and faces a drastically diminished crop yield. Whether it's one meter or six, the fact that formerly solid ice has suddenly started melting should worry us all.

No comments: