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What can we do about rising sea levels?

This article is over 4 years, 8 months old
Sarah Bates explains what is happening with rising sea levels and what we can do to deal with the growing catastrophe
Issue 2675
Rising sea levels are a threat to wildlife and human life
Rising sea levels are a threat to wildlife and human life (Pic: go_greener_oz/Flickr)

Sea levels are rising faster than ever before with catastrophic consequences for human survival and animal and marine life.

Just six years ago the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted sea level rises of no more than one metre by the end of the century. Now its research indicates that they could increase by three to six metres.

Greenhouse gas emissions heating up the planet are to blame.

It’s thought that oceans absorb over 90 percent of the heat that greenhouse gasses trap in Earth’s atmosphere. As they get warmer, the water expands and increases the overall volume of the ocean.

Another reason is because land-based ice is melting into the sea at an alarming rate. If Greenland and Antarctica—the two biggest ice sheets—melted, the oceans could rise by 66 metres.

Ice loss from the Greenland ice sheet increased six fold between 1992 and 2011. The rate of loss in Antarctica quadrupled in the same period.

A groundbreaking report in May warned that sea levels could go up by 2.4 metres by 2100.

The research in the National Academy of Sciences journal said it would happen if global warming caused temperatures to increase by 5 degrees.

But—crucially—this rise is not yet inevitable and there are still opportunities to pull back from the worst-case scenario.

Such a process would have catastrophic effects on millions of people in poorer countries.

“To put this into perspective, the Syrian refugee crisis resulted in about a million refugees coming into Europe,” said report author Jonathan Bamber.

“That is about 200 times smaller than the number of people who would be displaced in a two metre sea level rise.”

Already some communities—many of them in the poorest countries—are fighting a daily battle against climate catastrophe.


For instance, the Kiribati group of Pacific islands are only two metres above sea level and home to 110,000 people. Its government has bought 5,000 acres of land in Fiji in case an evacuation of the whole population is needed.

Residents already face flooding, contaminated freshwater supplies and a damaged agricultural and fishing industry.

Rising tides will also interact with other elements of the climate crisis, such as extreme weather. Haiti in the Caribbean is another example of a poor country at risk. It’s particularly vulnerable to hurricanes—which are likely to get wetter and more intense due to climate change.

And it’s both heavily deforested and mountainous, making landslides more likely.

Rising sea levels will mean salt water permeates farmlands and contaminates freshwater supplies. That would have a devastating impact in Haiti—a largely agricultural economy.

These aren’t isolated examples—eight of the world’s ten largest cities are near a coast.

By even the most conservative estimates, the sea will rise by two metres by the end of the century. This alone could displace potentially 187 million people.

For six metres or even higher, the numbers could be astronomical.

Under capitalism, a tiny minority of the rich have polluted the planet with fossil fuels. And under the same system, such a rate of forced migration will intensify war, poverty and racism.

That’s why its necessary not just to fight climate chaos, but for a socialist society that faces the emergency in a way that puts people and planet above profit.

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