You’ll see with your own eyes

By Bryan Walker 11/07/2012

An interesting piece in the Huffington Post recently reported Mohamed Nasheed, former President of the Maldives, warning the United States: “You can’t pick and choose on science.” The Maldives is one of the most threatened nations in the world from the sea level rise accompanying global warming. While he was President, Nasheed worked to make the country carbon-neutral, as reported on Hot Topic a couple of years ago. That won’t save the Maldives, of course, but it will at least show willing to do what other much larger nations must do to keep climate change within manageable limits. With a population of 300,000-plus, he said his country needs to complete around 200 projects to reach that goal, a process he believes would take about 10 years.

He acknowledges the United States has a bigger challenge, but they need to face up to it.

“It’s going to be difficult for the U.S. to be a world leader unless they themselves embrace it.”

The population of the Maldives see all too clearly the effects of climate change, but Nasheed acknowledges that Americans may need the evidence of their own eyes. They’ll be getting it:

“You will probably see many aberrations in climate patterns. You’ll have to see that and you’ll have to experience that for you to take this thing seriously.”

The weather extremes America has been experiencing in recent times look like the kind of aberrations in climate patterns that Nasheed foresees and, if the connection with climate change is allowed to be considered, may help mobilise public opinion in favour of mitigation measures.  But America will also not escape drastic effects from sea level rise in due course.  Climate Central, which has done its own analysis of the number of Americans at elevated risk of coastal flood by 2030, drew attention recently to an OECD environmental working paper which looks at the risks from a moderate estimate of sea level rise by the 2070s in major port cities around the world.  It’s a lengthy and carefully estimated report, allowing not only for a higher sea level but also for the damage which comes from strong winds and storm surges, a greater risk in some parts of the world than others.  Bloomberg has provided a slide show with a handy synopsis of the report’s findings for the top 20 of the cities covered in the report. Four of those 20 cities are in the US and one of them, Miami, tops the list for the costs of damage.

But the effects of sea level rise on America are by no means confined to port cities. Peter Sinclair has put together this telling video for The Yale Forum.

One doesn’t wish sea level rise on America any more than on any other country in the world. However it is one of the countries most responsible for the continuing high level of greenhouse gas emissions and it is one of the countries best placed to urgently follow the path of mitigation. Yet at the political level Americans are refusing to take that course. We can only hope that the mounting evidence of the serious dangers climate change is going to mean for their own country will overwhelm the denial and delay and indifference which currently prevent the major policy changes needed to enable the switch away from a fossil fuel economy.

Let’s give the last word to Nasheed.

“What happens to the Maldives today is going to happen to everyone else tomorrow…You must understand that.”