Nov 1, 2010

one decade left

Science now estimates that we have 10 years left to stabilize carbon emissions before we doom the future to serious problems.

Anyone who has taken chemistry is familiar with the principle behind the threat: the volume of a liquid increases with temperature. When the liquid in question is our ocean, each degree rise in temperature adds about 10 centimeters, not enough to drown coastal cities, but enough to speed up beach erosion and expand flood risk zones.

The tides change sea level by as much as 10 meters, and storms can do the same, so the rise from thermal expansion will not be catastrophic but gradual. It will make coastal storms more lethal and destructive.

Compounding the problem is the fact that the sea erodes glaciers and sea ice like it does beaches, and glaciers and sea ice are themselves melting. Sea level rise from the loss of ice also happens on a centimeter scale, but a little faster than thermal expansion, with the added risk of collapses.

If carbon emissions continue to rise, thermal expansion and ice melt will raise sea level enough to flood coastal land. Researchers estimate that the point at which climate change transitions from making weather harsher to being a destructive force of its own is around a two degree Celsius rise in temperature. At that point, the ocean will be a meter higher and big pieces of Louisiana, Florida and Texas will go underwater, plus a lot more land worldwide. So far industrial consumption of fossil fuels has caused a rise of 0.6 degrees.

To preclude catastrophic coastal floods and the loss of cities and towns, global carbon emissions must peak within the next decade and start to decline. Inaction on carbon emissions is becoming a violent, destructive policy.