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Is Climate Change Really So Serious? – The Sinking Islands

Written by: Roberto R. Bravo, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

One characteristic of dynamic systems is that a slight perturbation during a very short time can cause a lasting imbalance. A simple physical example is the pendulum: a deflection exerted for a few tenths of a second can take minutes or even hours, depending on the conditions of the pendulum, to return to a state of equilibrium. Push the pendulum of a wall clock slightly out of its path and see how long it takes, comparatively speaking, to recover its normal motion. In a system as dynamic and complex as the ecological balance of the planet, which includes physical, but also chemical, geological, environmental and biological components (as well as astronomical, about which our science can do nothing yet), human-generated perturbations can take hundreds or even thousands of years to reach a new natural equilibrium ― which, unlike the clock pendulum, will not be identical to the previous balance, as our industrial activity has modified components of various subsystems, including the composition and temperature of the atmosphere, with consequences at the global level.

The physiognomy of our planet and its living conditions have changed significantly over time. Due to the movement of tectonic plates, the continents only reached their present shape in geologically recent times. Climate is another changing factor. Changes in the composition of the atmosphere and in global temperatures, partly owing to metabolic processes of primitive organisms, partly to astronomical phenomena, among other causes, have also led to impressive changes in the Earth's surface. A desert like the Sahara was once lush with vegetation, and vast tropical expanses have long been covered by ice...


Human activity is a rapid agent of change that has altered in a very short geological time the delicate balance achieved by nature over billions of years, with consequences that we failed to foresee at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and that we cannot now reverse. Not entirely, and not in the short term.


Some of the changes we have made to nature are already irreversible: ocean levels will continue to rise as a result of the recorded 1.1°C increase in global temperature (see previous posts), which is causing polar ice caps, glaciers and snowy peaks to retreat. Sea waters absorb less oxygen under high temperatures, whereas the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere is causing acidification of the oceans through the decomposition of excess carbon dioxide in the waters. Two effects that have serious impacts on marine ecosystems, leading to the likely disappearance of species. It has been estimated that warm-water coral reefs will fade away by as much as 90% if global temperature reaches 1.5°C, which is dangerously close.


This is particularly serious since the complex ecosystem of coral reefs provides much of the food for many island populations and accounts for much of the current balance of ocean life (IPCC: Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate), with major implications for world fishing.


Perhaps one of the most impressive effects of climate change will be the alteration, within a few years, of the world's geography as a result of the reduction of emerged land ― which, by the way, amounts to less than 30% of the planet's surface. The rise in average water levels, mainly due to the gradual melting of the poles, will reach half a metre and, if nothing is done to curb it, could approach 2 or even 3 metres by the end of this century. At the current rate of increase of almost 4 mm per year, up to 40 mostly flat island countries, including the well-known islands of the Maldives, Solomon Islands, Fiji, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Vanuatu or Tuvalu, as well as many coastal areas around the world, are on their way to sinking, with the consequent decrease in habitable land, a process that will become more pronounced in the coming decades. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has estimated that 330 million people will be displaced worldwide if global temperatures rise by three to four degrees Celsius. But such migration has already begun due to the partial subsidence of many lands, mainly flat islands, and at this very moment there are more than half a million people at risk of losing their homes, jobs, livelihoods and even their countries and nationalities, as a result of the disappearance of some island states. This is what Susin Park, Head of the UNHCR (High Commissioner for Refugees) Office for Switzerland and Liechtenstein, points out in her Report on Climate Change and the Risk of Statelessness.


The mass displacement already being caused by rising waters will be added to the thousands of refugees arriving daily in Europe and North America driven by poverty or war conflicts in their home countries. Not to mention the inevitable loss of life, as well as infrastructure, resources and investment, and without going into ethical considerations regarding the treatment of refugees, these forced migrations are posing a considerable challenge to the economies of the receiving countries. Meanwhile, the growing effects of environmental disasters are imposing extraordinary costs on affected countries, many of which have to resort to external aid. The consequences for the global economy are obvious. Besides the considerable losses involved, it is well known that the economic and fiscal impact of public spending is eventually passed on to taxes, the increase in which tends to reduce consumption and investment, with the effects of unpredictability and likely market instability... All of which, for those primarily concerned with economics, implies major global economic imbalances that will increase as climate change progresses, because sea level rise affects not only islands but coastal areas across the whole globe. Even if the other causes of uncontrolled migration could be solved in the short term ― which would involve, among other things, nothing less than ending poverty and wars ― the flight from areas of rising floods will continue at least for decades, until the planet reaches a new climate equilibrium which, in various respects, will leave us with a very different world from the one we have now.


What we still have time to avoid, if we are lucky, is a worsening of the climate beyond limits that may be intolerable. If we completely eliminate our CO2 emissions as soon as possible and undertake intensive and ambitious reforestation programmes, more extensive than those already underway, we could still prevent temperatures from rising further, and perhaps even reverse some of their long-term effects. The slowdown in the increase would start to be felt soon but would take an estimated 20-30 years to stabilise globally. By contrast, the quality of the air will improve rapidly (as it turned out during the general lockdowns in the early days of the pandemic). However, a return to the previous environmental balance that humanity (and the diversity of known plant and animal species) has enjoyed until now is not likely to happen. Nature's new point of stability, given the slowness of geological and environmental processes, may even take millennia, but at least its effects might be slower, giving us time to adapt and perhaps devise ways to counteract its advance. If we do what we must do now, we may succeed in slowing the race to climate disaster. But we must, once and for all, take seriously what has been repeated so many times: immediately stop pollution, generate clean energy, design ambitious plans for reforestation, recovery and protection of plant and animal species, apply methods for a rational and sustainable exploitation of natural resources and, above all, and as soon as possible, we must change our mindset regarding forms of production and consumption habits for criteria of sustainability, from all sectors of industry to the domestic economy.


Want to learn more from Roberto? Follow him on Youtube & Linkedin or visit his website.


 

Robert R. Bravo, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Besides his long experience as a researcher and lecturer on Ethics, Logic of Science, and Philosophy of Language in Universities of Spain and Latin America, Roberto R Bravo writes and teaches management skills in the areas of language and argumentation, coaching, leadership, and conflict management from a philosophical standpoint. Member of the editorial board of some academic and non-academic journals, he has published a number of essays, short stories, books for children, and translations. He is currently working on several books, both fiction and non-fiction.

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