November 6, 2008

Sea Level Rises at 1, 3, 10, and 20 Meters

This sequence of maps from the US Geological Service shows the effects of sea level rises at 1, 3, 10 and 20 meters.

At 1 meter, southern Florida, the Gulf Coast around Louisiana, and parts of the Eastern seaboard would be affected.

Here's a snippet of the southeastern United States at an inundation of 3 meters:

10 meters:

20 meters:

The chart below shows the world population affected by a rising sea level.

This graphic gives the population affected and land loss for Florida, northern Europe, and East Asia assuming a 5, 10, 20, and 30 meter sea level rise.

It is not difficult to show that all the nations whose cooperation is most needed for limits on carbon emissions--China, India, Indonesia, Brazil--would be devastated by rising sea waters.

What are the main obstacles to such cooperation?
The three big ones, I would say, are the following:
1) Scientific uncertainty. This may be pulling the wool over our eyes, but it is real as a factor in preventing concerted action to deal with the crisis.
2) Generational selfishness. Who cares if a billion people are underwater fifty years hence?
3) The Problematics of International Cooperation. Why make sacrifices to limit carbon emissions if other states cannot be corralled into setting limits?
The selfishness and shortsightedness of "man"--women, alas, are short-sighted too--is the basic realist insight. The perversity of human nature is sufficiently displayed in history as to always make the pessimistic case worthy of respectful attention.

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