Saturday, June 28, 2014

The UN and the Rise of the Seas: A Miss is As Good As a Mile. Or Even Three.

   In case you missed it, June 5 was World Environment Day. The United Nations heavily promoted this day-of-awareness-raising, which finds itself neatly sandwiched between the anniversaries of the Tianeman Square massacre in China and the D-Day invasion in France. And to hear the environmentalists tell it, the tolls of those two events will pale in comparison to the devastation to be reeked without draconian measures put in place immediately to rein in carbon pollution.
    The official slogan of World Environment Day this year was "Raise your voice, not the sea level." (The slogan leaves one with the impression that perhaps it sounded better in the original language in which it was coined.) This year, the UN deployed a unique new weapon in the climate change arsenal: an award-winning website called World Under Water. Visitors are greeted with an ominous warning:
Sea levels are rising. Soon, climate change won’t just affect people living in coastal regions, but each and every one of us.  See the effect of global warming in your neighborhood.
    The next page features various well known locales with famous landmarks (utilizing Google Street View,) but with a twist. The website's gimmick is superimposing a shimmering, moving image of water of the lower part of the screen, presenting the mildly hokey illusion of devastating inundation:

    But remember, the website invites visitors to "see the effect of global warming in your neighborhood." There is a slight problem with the concept, however. The interface accepts any street address. Any. Regardless of the location's elevation. As you might be guessing by now, this allows for some rather incongruous images.  For instance, here is Mile High Stadium in Denver, CO:

Here's an exterior shot:

    For non-football fans, "Mile High" is not hyperbole or clever marketing. The official elevation of the city is 5,280 feet, which is, if you recall from your elementary school days, exactly one mile.  So while "climate change deniers" are the ones usually blamed for ignoring science, the World Under Water folks may have some explaining to do. All other things remaining equal, a glacier roughly the size of Jupiter would have to melt to flood Denver. [Full disclosure: I am not a scientist. I ball-parked the glacier size.]
    But a mile is nothing compared to this image from Cerro de Pasco, Peru, which sits at 14,370 feet above sea level in the Andes Mountains:

    The caption says, "When large storms hit land, higher sea levels mean bigger, more powerful storm surges." But the earth hasn't seen a storm surge like this since Noah.
    Just to see how sea-level rise might hit closer to home, I entered President Obama's current address, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, which, according to my sources, is 59 feet above the current sea level:

Despite the caption captured in the photo above, it remains unclear how many species of fish currently reside in the Entrance Hall of the White House that may be displaced by rising sea levels.
    So while the impacts of predicted increased sea levels (which President Obama famously albeit obliquely pledged to hold back) may be somewhat up in the air (so to speak,) it seems safe to say they will not be a mile up in the air, or three miles, or even 59 feet. The text captured at the bottom of the photo of Mile High Stadium above says, "Even a small amount of sea level rise will have profound and largely negative effects." Even as a non scientist, I believe I can say with confidence that flood-delayed Broncos games, cruises in the Andes, and White House tours via submarine will not be among them.

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