chapter  6
14 Pages


By the end of this century, the planet will heat up between 1.4 and 5.8 degrees Celsius, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Six degrees may not sound like much, but it will be enough to radically transform the planet. Global warming is already a fact – the fabled snows of Kilimanjaro are melting away, the massive boulders of the Matterhorn, icebound for centuries, have begun to plunge in dramatic and dangerous rock falls, and the atoll nations of the Pacific are disappearing inch by inch under the waves. Scientific models demonstrate that climate change is an unprecedented challenge to societies around the globe, and is more than a routine swing of a slow pendulum. Coral reefs are already dying; polar creatures are losing their habitats. Some species may survive through migration, but countless others are doomed to extinction. With a three-degree increase, the American Midwest and the Amazon Basin – today the source of 20 percent of the Earth’s freshwater – will begin to decay into arid, uninhabitable regions. Entire populations will become refugees as their land becomes uninhabitable, particularly along the earth’s coastlines, in the face of rising sea levels. These changes will be pronounced by 2050. The great cites of New York, London, Mumbai, Shanghai, Tokyo, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and hundreds of others will be confronting at first periodic and, later, chronic flooding. In Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, Mark Lynas writes:

In the four degree (temperature rise) world, with global sea levels half a meter or more above current levels, Alexandria (Egypt’s) long lifespan will be drawing to a close. Even in today’s climate, a substantial part of the city lies below sea level … by 2050 a rise in sea level of 50 centimeters would displace 1.5 million people … as the sea begins to encroach across ever wider parts of the Nile Delta, millions more will be evicted from their homes … beaches, wetlands, and agricultural areas will all be submerged, devastating an area that is the heart of Egypt’s economy … farther to the east, Bangladesh will be losing a third of its land area, displacing tens of millions from the fertile Meghna Delta. In Boston, storm surge flooding from higher sea levels could inundate the central business district

… down the coast in New Jersey … three percent of the state [would be under water], including the most densely populated coastal areas … New York, London and Venice will only be saved if huge amounts of money are plowed into new and ever higher defenses against floods … Like today’s New Orleans, coastal cities of the future may gradually become fortified islands, largely below sea level and under siege from all sides by advancing waters. Such a strategy would protect trillions of dollars worth of real estate, but it would also bring dangers: As New Orleans fatefully experienced [in Hurricane Katrina in 2005] one serious storm can bring down a vulnerable city in a matter of hours, putting many thousands of lives at risk. Rebuilding a city may be an option after the water is pumped out, as long as insurers are willing and able to cough up the necessary sums. But who will pay to build a city twice? Or three times? … the only solution will be for millions of coastal dwellers to retreat inland, as civilization’s map is redrawn with constantly changing boundaries … inland cities will face a constant stream of refugees with thousands – and perhaps even millions – arriving all at once.3