Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Sea Level Rising, Sea Walls Needed

Rising Sea Level, the result of climate change needs attention and funds to create necessary sea walls.

One major problem posed for the environment is sea level rise. Apart from the threat to marine life due to carbon levels increasing the acidity of the ocean, sea level rise threatens the lives and livelihood of many people that live on the coast, me included. The melting of the ice sheets across continental land isn’t the only factor to ocean rise. Once the globe is warmer the water already in the ocean will begin to expand (because warmer fluids have more volume than cooler ones). One proposed solution is the creation of sea walls, but these can be expensive to create and maintain not to mention their recent failures and tragic consequences.

Sea level is projected to rise from 22 cm to 34 cm from 1990 to 2080. Multiply that height by hundreds of kilometers of coastline and consider the increased occurrence of major storms that usually bring with them towering waves- it spells catastrophe. Or for a better description, an avoidable catastrophe. If given enough time, enough planning, and enough money, the solution would be sturdy sea walls and other preventive measures. The most glorious example of modern engineering for this purpose belongs to one nation: the Netherlands. Given 50 years and $17 billion, the Dutch have secured their nation with 10,000 miles of ocean protection. Without this careful plan, studies estimated that 65% of the country would be under water.

To contrast Dutch success, Hurricane Katrina taught the US how disastrous the result can be when the sea walls break. New Orleans is still cleaning the mess up, a mess many regarded as unnecessary had the infrastructure stood up as designed. Other major cities that are vulnerable to the rise of the ocean include Tokyo, Taipei, Bangkok, Kolkuta, Chennai, and Colombo, just to name a few cities with populations past 1 million. When hit with major storms evacuation is the first step, but from what the US demonstrated (treating and calling its own citizens "refugees") massive migration within a country is both difficult and ill-received. Alarming, considering the New Orleans population is medium sized at around 400,000 residents from the most developed nation in the world. Developing nations fare much, much worse.

Globally, we are unprepared for the worst-case scenarios. Funding is needed across the world from the US to Africa. In California, homeowners and local governments spend millions of dollars trying to protect homes built close to the coast, but the ocean is a steady and relentless combatant. Erosion is a constant threat. Likely, local municipalities and governments will have to foot the bill for these protective measures. This is problematic for developing nations clearly without millions of dollars and certainly without billions. Currently the relief fund instated by the UN is about $18 million, perilously below the goal of 100's of millions (as of October 16, 2009). How can these funds grow? By who? By when? Regardless, file this need under collaboration of nations, or lack of thereof.

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