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Global Environmental Catastrophe Part 3: Sea Level Rise

Updated on December 1, 2016
High Risk Areas
High Risk Areas


The reason that sea level rise is occurring is because as the atmosphere warms ice sheets lose more ice in the summer than they gain in the winter, causing a net loss of ice to the oceans, which results in sea level rise. As well as ice loss, thermal expansion of the oceans is also a significant contributor to sea level rise.

Greenland alone has lost over 1 trillion tonnes of ice between 2011 and 2014. Scientists have estimated that if all of Greenland's ice sheets were to melt that we could expect a global sea level rise of 6m (20 feet) at least. If all the ice covering Antarctica, Greenland, and in mountain glaciers around the world were to melt, sea level would rise about 70 meters (230 feet). The ocean would cover all the coastal cities. And land area would shrink significantly. But many cities, such as Denver, would survive. However, scientists don't expect sea levels to rise that much, because the antarctic ice sheet has survived far warmer periods. Realistically speaking we can expect a minimum of 20 feet sea level rise over the next century or so.

Who is most threatened?

As you can see in the table above, a high number of people are going to be directly effected. If people think that there is a refugee crisis now, just wait. How will countries deal with the massive influx of refugees? I imagine that every country is threatened by sea level rise, not just the coastal cities and nations. Why is that? Well you see we live in a globalized economy. Your underwear, your shirt, the chair, couch, or bed you are resting on was likely delivered from overseas. Most of the things you own required that massive cargo ships would send your stuff from all over the world. Our modern economy relies primarily on shipping ports being in working order. As sea level continues to rise nations are going to have to invest remarkable amounts of their GDP towards maintaining, rebuilding, and protecting their shipping ports.

100m Rise. Equivalent to 80% ice cap loss. Red=Permanently flooded.
100m Rise. Equivalent to 80% ice cap loss. Red=Permanently flooded.

Further Consequences

Sea level rise will contaminate drinking water. As the oceans continue to rise, salt water will seep into fresh water sources such as aquifers which provide water for billions of people. This can be solved with desalination plants. Desalination plants are incredibly costly, which means that poorer people will simply die of dehydration, while the rich drink desalinated ocean water. Take for example San Diego county California. They are building the largest desalination plant in the western hemisphere in preparation for harder times, and in recognition of the effects of severe drought in the area. Massachusetts Institute for Technology has estimated that the plant will cost roughly 1 billion dollars.

The encroaching salt water will also stunt and kill crops and have detrimental effects on the quality of farm land. As seen in the paragraph above, desalinating water is unsustainable and heavy on the economy.

Coastal plant life will die off as a result of repeated flooding. This could have effects on tourism, which will hit certain areas harder than others.

Sea level rise will have a strong effect on beachfront economies, namely real estate and tourism. Beach front properties will consistently reduce in value as the coasts become a riskier place to live and eventually flooding overtakes the areas entirely.

5m Rise
5m Rise


Although I recognize that sea level rise is not a good thing, there are definitely some benefits to it. Economies will spring up around the business of protecting coastal cities. I imagine that millions of people will find employment in the industry of holding back the oceans.

Desalination companies will also be creating millions of jobs around the world in the building of large scale operations and home systems for turning the ocean water into drinkable fresh water.

I hate to look at things in the light of economy, jobs, and gdp. Because really that's the kind of global thinking that has gotten us into the environmental catastrophe. People are far too focused on increasing their income, improving the economy and so on. Its high time people realized you can't drink or eat money, and as we rapaciously pursue capital gains, we're doing it at the cost of decent survival for billions of people, which is unthinkably selfish and cruel.


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