Holocene Sea Level

Holocene Sea Level

Originally uploaded by JoeDuck

It seems to me that the time to worry about rapid sea level pretty much ended about 5000 years ago. Current predictions from the most authoritative source – the IPCC – suggest we’ll see 1-2 feet over the next 100 years. This amount of rise won’t be hard to manage.

8 thoughts on “Holocene Sea Level

  1. Joe, is it the article’s opinion or your’s regarding managing a one to two foot rise. I have little understanding but think it is likely to be either no issue or a rather complex one. I offer what little I know here: a great deal of the population lives on or near the coast so there are potentially lots of folks in play. Most of the world is rather poor so their ability to react will be more challenged than Westerners. Sea level rises are a derivative of warming temps that bring a host of other issues involving agriculture and disease. The poorest and largest populations almost always live in marginal areas near the mouth of rivers and ports (this is anecdotal but based on personal observations of Santo Domingo, Dominican Rep, Guayaquil, Ecuador, and Asuncion Paraguay) because the land floods and people with means will not live there. Cholera, dissentary, giarda, etc. could see some marked increases. On the agricultural side, there is a good deal of thought that believes that the warming will have a negative impact on agriculture and habitat for animals. So I think if there is any effect, it is likely to be much more complex and far reaching than building a 1-2 foot sea wall.

    • Rick! Am I drawing you into the endless chatter of the blogospheric climate debate? You’ll curse me for this some day, believe me…

      You are making several potentially excellent points, especially with respect to the fact that many believe warming will disproportionately hurt the poor. If I start to see compelling evidence that we are sacrificing the well being of the poor for the benefit of the rich I’d change my tune immediately.

      You did a nice job of noting several of the speculations that have been made about how climate change can impact the poor, but I’ve tried and failed to find much evidence and I maintain that “hurting the poor” is more likely to come from reductions in economic activity than from reductions in CO2. Disease, for example, is already rampant in much of the world. Taking that on *directly* offers a lot more ROI than taking it on with expensive mitigation measures. This group is my favorite in terms of working to prioritize ROI on global social investment: http://www.copenhagenconsensus.com/

      Climate change activists need to clearly show that the costs of mitigation are greater than the benefits, which to me is the key problem with the political and irrational view of climate change that prevails right now in much of the world (see Mendohlson below for a very authoritative treatment of this).

      So, here’s a LOT more than you asked for. Feel free to skip over it quickly without offending me:

      The article is just my opinion, and it pains me to be in the minority because a lot of great scientists who are smarter and more knowlegeable about climate change would say I’m completely wrong about this. However there seem to be a growing number of scientists who are starting to challenge the idea that catastrophe is looming. I maintain strongly that the alarmist idea is unsupportable by any data, though the very sharp and outspoken leader of the alarmist faction, James Hansen of NASA, would disagree: http://www.stormsofmygrandchildren.com/

      I’d submit for consideration this graph, for example, which shows how dramatically sea levels have changed when humans were around. Sure there will be adaptation required, but humans are fairly good at that.
      The graph is from wikipedia and I think is widely accepted as accurate. HOWEVER the idea that we don’t have much to worry about is NOT the mainstream view in climate science, though I think a lot of “skeptical of alarmism” folks in science have been silent for years for various reasons. I’m not talking about sea walls or high tech, it’s about managing what I would say are trivial annual changes. Sea level is rising approximately this much per year: |

      Can we manage that? Yes. New York City has been doing so for over 100 years, as the rise there is comparable to current rise and has been for several generations. Daily tides are orders of magnitude above this, and I’ve never found a good explanation for why changes that are managed on a daily basis will be impossible to manage on a century timeframe. It’s true they are different because the rise is cumulative, but I think people are fretting over century numbers as if they were sudden shifts.

      Unfortunately mitigation of CO2, which is very expensive and arguably of very dubious value, also is likely to hurt the poor disproportionately, effectively making it more expensive to do business and thus lowering GDP. There is some disagreement here, such as Stern in UK who argues mitigation has positive effects on economy, but most seem to think mitigation hurts economy. I’m a fan of economist Robert Mendohlson from Yale’s approach to mitigation (posted with his permission – this is over a year old)

      Robert Mendelsohn wrote:
      Mr Hunkins:
      The economics community involved in climate change generally agrees that it is time to start controlling greenhouse gases. The prevailing wisdom in this community is that we should start with a relatively modest
      program that gets more stringent over time (although there are a few dissenters to this conclusion). A policy that begins with massive immediate mitigation will tend to be wasteful on a number of criteria. First, the costs will far exceed the benefits. The present value of damages from current emissions are relatively low, so that any immediate program that has very high costs per ton will be wasteful. The benefits of controlling carbon dioxide this decade are less than $10/ton of carbon dioxide. The abatement costs will exceed the benefits for any effort that costs more than this amount. Second, the optimal response to a stock pollutant like greenhouse gases is a dynamic policy that tightens over time. This optimal response delays expenditures on abatement until later. The optimal response postpones massive costs until the second half of the century. This reduces the overall cost of abatement, regardless of the long term cumulative target, by a factor of three. Third, we want to take advantage of technical change. If we invest in abatement too soon, we will invest in
      poorly designed programs and technology. The current corn ethanol program in the United States is
      a good example. It costs a lot of money and has the same carbon footprint
      as gasoline. That is, it is completely ineffective at controlling greenhouse gases. Let technical change proceed and then invest heavily in effective alternatives. Finally, the optimal program is a universal program that applies to every emitter in the world. It is wasteful to spend $10 per ton to remove a ton of emissions in one place while failing to spend $1 per ton removing a ton in another. The more stringent the policy becomes, the more critical that it be applied universally.
      —— end quote ———


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