Lately, when we talked about things being under water, we were most likely talking about houses that are now worth less than the amount of the mortgage. God knows we have read enough about that problem in the last few weeks. Now scientists warn that many of us may literally be under water, a reminder that along with the new problems of the Great Recession, the old problem of global warming is still ticking along, getting worse not better.
The latest piece of bad news comes from a meeting in Copenhagen. Scientists convening in March 2009 at Copenhagen announced that sea levels will rise faster than anticipated just a mere three years ago. A report issued by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007 predicted that sea level would rise by 7 to 23 inches by the end of the century. Researchers meeting at the International Scientific Congress on Climate Change are pushing that number significantly higher.
The biggest reason for the increase is that the 2007 UN report deliberately excluded melting of the ice caps from its calculations. Well, the new numbers are in and it is not looking good. A worst case scenario puts the projected rise in seal levels at as much as 6 feet. The best all-around guesstimate is 3 feet.
What does that mean? Nearly 1 out of every 10 persons on the globe lives in a low-lying area. That's about 600 million people. According to some studies, 23 percent of the world's population lives within 100 kilometers of the coast and less than 100 meters above sea level. A one meter rise in sea level would threaten 100 million people in Asia, around 14 million Europeans, and eight million each on the west coast of Africa and the northern shores of South America.
The worst thing about this is that thanks to eight years of denial and inaction and downright obstructionism under Bush, we may have lost our last best chance to significantly slow down the build up of carbon in the atmosphere that is at the root of the rapid rise of global temperatures.
This may well be the most enduring legacy of the Bush years, a momentous opportunity squandered. The sound you hear as they were leaving was not the door closing but the window of opportunity snapping shut.