Sea level rise
By guest blogger, James R Flynn, Professor FRSNZ *
As Ben Strauss (Director of Climate Control) says “the 22nd century will become the century from hell.”
Until very recently, scientific opinion included some who predicted only a very gradual rise in sea level over the remainder of this century: most of them less than a meter. This was because sea level rise up to now has been caused mainly by thermal expansion. As oceans get warmer the water expands but not too alarmingly. The best science is now predicting a huge rise by the year 2100. This is because of the fragility of the Polar Ice Caps. It sets into motion a feedback mechanism that takes global warming out of human control. The Polar Ice acts as a gigantic set of mirrors that reflect heat back into space. As they decline that raises the earth’s temperature, which melts more Polar Ice, which raises temperature further, and so we go. The carbon emissions we send into the atmosphere become a junior player in global warming to the extent that after 2050, our efforts to cut them become swamped by the Polar Ice factor. It is much easier to keep a glacier from decline than to restore it once it fragments, if only because that in itself creates temperatures that are too hot.
Polar Ice is not is not like a solid ice cube that comes out of your fridge and slowly melts on your bench. As DeContro and Pollard (2016) point out, in their article in Nature, when a glacier is near the sea, melting ice on top of it fractures it into a series of ‘cliffs’. The ice between them falls into the sea leaving sheer cliffs behind. These cannot support their weight, and suffer from ‘cliff collapse’ that sends them into the sea as well. Moreover, some ice is strategically placed to keep other ice from sliding into the sea. In the West Antarctic, the Thwaites Glacier acts like a cork that holds back other glaciers that rest on a seabed that slopes toward the sea. It is melting fast and when it goes the others will follow it into the ocean. In the Arctic, sea ice plays this role and as it melts, the land ice it encircles will no longer be impeded from drifting toward the ocean.
I have focused on Polar land ice but note that we must take into account the polar ice that presently rests on the sea. It may seem less significant because when it melts, it does not directly raise sea levels (it is already displacing its volume in the sea). But when it is gone that is another huge mirror gone. Notz and Stove (2016) predict that all Arctic sea ice (not land ice) will disappear by the year 2050.
James Hansen and his team have integrated the effect of glacier ice loss into a new and more comprehensive model of sea level rise. It gives estimates with a median of 3.5 meters (scenarios range from 2 to 5) by the year 2100. As Ben Strauss (Director of Climate Control) says, even a low estimate promises that the 22nd century will become the century from hell. If sea level is rising exponentially, then after 2100 the rise will be huge for each decade – somewhere between 0.80 and 2.73 meters between 2100 and 2110 alone and nightmarish after that. Planning to move inland will become a panic unless cities are put on roller skates.
To illustrate what sea-level rise implies, a rise of even 2.6 meters would put large percentages of American cities under water: New Orleans 93, Galveston 82, Atlantic City 80, Miami 46, Norfolk 43, St. Petersburg 40, Jersey City 33, Charleston 30, Savannah 24. New York City would lose ‘only’ 15 per cent, so only about 1.26 million people would be directly affected (really more with population growth).
In sum, unless we abolish coal today, oil in ten years, and national gas in 20, the race to avoid unacceptable temperature and sea level rise has been lost. The only solution is to use a benign form of climate engineering to hold temperatures at their present level and give us 50 years to eliminate emissions. I will explore alternatives in my next posting.
* James R. Flynn is Emeritus Professor of Political Studies in New Zealand and author of 16 books including a series on the problems of the modern world, among which he considers climate change to be the most important. His book, No Place To Hide, attracted the following praise:
‘A broad-ranging view of the critical issues facing our planet written in an easy to understand non-technical manner’ — Jay Zwally, Maryland Earth Sciences and NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre.
‘A great read. A massive amount of information well organized and expressed’ — Sir Alan Mark, FRSNZ, Knight of the N. Z. Order of Merit.
‘Wonderful, for the first time I have read an unbiased overview of the science behind global warming’ — Rolf Dobelli, Author of The Art of Thinking Clearly.
By conference convener, Stephanie Mines, Ph.D.
“One of the warning signs that a dangerous warming trend is under way in Antarctica will be the break-up of ice shelves on both coasts of the Antarctic Peninsula.” ~ John Mercer, Institute of Polar Studies.
Any time now, perhaps even by the time you read this article, a section (about 10%) of the West Antarctic Larsen C ice shelf will break away to become the largest iceberg ever recorded. The process, called calving, will generate a resounding rolling thunder clap in the vast silence of the Antarctic. The world’s sea levels will immediately be effected, as water that was held back is released in quantities that are impossible to accurately predict. “Ice shelves are like corks in a bottle,” says David Bromwich of the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Centre, Ohio University. “They are holding back the contents of the bottle. You take the cork away and everything flows out. We don’t know the time scale of this. But sea level rise of this magnitude is alarming.”
Ultimately, this single calving event will increase sea levels dramatically. To quote David Vaughan of the British Antarctic Survey, “When it calves, the Larsen C ice shelf will lose more than 10% of its area. This will fundamentally change the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula. The ice it holds back could add about four inches to sea levels.” Or, from Nagraj Adve, author of Global Warming in the Indian Context, “Ten centimeters of average sea level rise from the collapse of Larsen C may not seem like much until we put that figure in perspective. It’s a little over half of all the sea level rise the world has already experienced since 1901. This should deeply concern us.”
This sudden cataclysmic event, likely to be seen or heard by only a few, will reverse hundreds if not thousands of years of geological trend, depending on how one dates the formation and reformation of the mother ice sheet. The question I pose here, is whether human consciousness is ready for that moment when calving occurs. Decade after decade of ignorance and denial of global warming and climate change has brought us to the threshold of disaster. We have laced ourselves into a fateful straitjacket. However, there remains a way out, although it has to happen fast and it will require collective responsibility and human solidarity. As Dr. Stefan Rahmstorf, author of Our Threatened Oceans says, “The creation of a viable future for ourselves and for future generations requires the commitment of everyone on our planet.”
Just as that moment of calving in the Antarctic is the product of a long history, so is this moment of opportunity to collectively choose to live differently. The awakening may be as sudden for you as it was for me, but it is still likely to be a result of what preceded it. I was reflecting on this recently and wrote this poem to explain the guidance that resulted in the birth of the conference, Climate Change & Consciousness: Our legacy for the Earth.
Guidance recalibrates the logical mind
And consumes excuses with fire.
It seems a speedy process but
It is built on merit you did not know
You accumulated in order to
Burn resistance into
Love in action.
Suddenly you find
You are not making a decision;
The decision makes you.
This is the work of the
Goddess of Electricity.
It is hummingbird medicine.
Before you know it
The I has become We
And nothing is impossible.
If we look around at the chaos in the world, the injustices and the suffering, it feels like we are living in a degraded age or what the yogis called the Kali Yuga, defined by excesses, mechanistic thinking, materialism, greed and a focus on the gross aspects of life. But according to Vedic calculation, as described by mystical teachers like Paramhansa Yogananda, we are actually living in the Dwapara Yuga, an age of refined thinking when we are sensitive to energetic vibrations, bioelectrical rhythms and the power of thought.
The Kali Yuga is the Old Story and the Dwapara Yuga is the New Story. There are periods between these Yugas which are called Sandhis or transitional cycles. This is where we often feel stuck between stories. But the Yogic Masters say we are truly living in a time of hope. Our capacities have finally, over thousands of years, evolved so that we can unite to live brilliantly in a climate changed world. Collectively, we have developed the capacity to understand the truth about matter. We have cultivated the resources to expand true knowledge and have refined our means of expression. In the Dwapara Yuga, inner consciousness rises above density to perceive the quantum flow of energy. It is when individuals are empowered, transcending the subjugation and passivity of the Kali Yuga and instead, choosing awareness, compassion and inclusion.
Charles Eisenstein points out in The Most Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible that in order to cross over into the New Story we have to fully know the paradigm that we are leaving behind. This appears to slow us down but actually, it allows us to move forward with confidence. Then, when the old paradigm is fully spent, as I reference in my poem, change seems sudden, perhaps even instantaneous. Guidance tells me that on April 20, 2019 we will be ready to come together for a decisive shift in the collective understanding of ‘our legacy for the Earth.’ “Climate change is an intellectual challenge; but it is also a test of human solidarity,” says James Flynn, author of No Place to Hide. The representative gathering in the Universal Hall, Findhorn, will personify our readiness, as will thousands of people in hubs around the world participating through live streaming.
When the Larsen C ice shelf calves, will you hear it?
When your guidance descends in a whoosh of awakening, will you follow it?
I answer YES to both of these questions. I am reminded that guidance ‘recalibrates the logical mind and consumes excuses with fire.’ “Making people better informed is rarely enough to solve problems of great consequence, but I am convinced that the problem of climate change may be one of the rare exceptions,” says Jim Flynn.
The next blog in this series will reveal why the Findhorn Foundation is the perfect location for this decisive moment in our history.