Monday, December 14, 2009

Copenhagen data: ten percent of Florida underwater by end of the century

This post is now a Google News Link and is posted on Basil and Spice

This post named by Carnival of the Green #207 as "Best Green Tweet" of the week. It was posted on Twitter December 14, 2009.

I wrote a few weeks ago that ten percent of Louisiana is projected to be underwater by the year 2100. Now, it looks like Florida is in the same boat. Or perhaps I should say "in need of" the same boat.

If we apply the predictions coming from the Copenhagen climate meetings (Dec. 7-18) to the topography of Florida, then ten percent of Florida too will be inundated by the end of this century.

The new climate projections from Copenhagen are in a report called the "Copenhagen Diagnosis," composed by a group of 26 climatologists. In essence, it says that the situation is worse than we thought - glaciers and ice sheets are melting faster, oceans are rising faster. The report is a summary of hundreds of peer-reviewed research papers published in the last couple of years. The Copenhagen Diagnosis supersedes a 2007 report from the IPCC that has been the standard for reference on climate statistics since its publication a couple of years ago. Fourteen of the climatologists who compiled the Copenhagen Diagnosis were also authors of the 2007 report from the IPCC, or Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. That IPCC report was scary enough. The IPCC chairman declared dramatically, in 2007, that action must be taken by 2012 in order to have any effect on global warming. So we should be in the midst of those corrective actions right now, which unfortunately, we are not.

Copenhagen Diagnosis more unnerving than older IPCC report

Anyway, the Copenhagen Diagnosis is even more severe than the 2-year-old IPCC report. Some specifics from the Copenhagen Diagnosis: Arctic sea ice is melting 40% faster than was projected a few years ago. The IPCC had estimated that sea levels would rise 1.9 mm per year between 1993 and 2008. We now know from satellite data that seas have risen 3.4 mm per year during that same period, which is 80% more rise than predicted. The rise is from thermal expansion (water expands as it warms) as well as melting glaciers, ice sheets, and ice caps.

According to the Copenhagen climatologists, by the end of this century global sea levels will rise at least twice as much as earlier predicted by the IPCC. If heat-trapping emissions are not reduced, the rise will be 1 to 2 meters by the year 2010. And they will keep on rising for centuries, for a total of several meters - even if global temperatures have been stabilized.

How might this affect Florida?  

What will happen in Florida when sea levels rise, say, 27 inches? Frank Ackerman, a senior economist at the Stockholm Institute, has studied that question with computer modeling. His model projects a 27-inch rise by the year 2060, just 50 years from now.

About Florida, Ackerman says, "Our map of the area vulnerable to 27 inches of sea-level rise looks like someone took a razor to the state right above Miami and sliced off everything below that, [which includes] residential real estate worth $130 billion in that, half of Florida's beaches, two nuclear reactors, three prisons, 37 nursing homes, and on and on."

What about levees, like in New Orleans and the Netherlands? Would that help?

They won't work in Florida, because the metropolitan area of South Florida is built on porous limestone.

Dr. Hal Wanless, Chairman of Geological Sciences at the University of Miami, says that rising sea levels come right up through the limestone, as was proved during Hurricane Betsy. "There's no way to put a levee around South Florida and really keep the water out."

Katy Sorenson, a County Commissioner in Miami-Dade, says "We're going to be fighting flooding year-round. And we're going to have to adapt to that." For example, building codes will have to require higher foundations, she says.

Yes, but somehow it seems that she's missing the point. Is she paying attention? When Miami is underwater, a higher foundation is not going to help.

Half the world's population live close to coasts

This issue is not restricted to Florida and Louisiana of course. Approximately 50% of the world's population live within 60 miles of a coastline. Those numbers vary a little depending upon the source; Jared Diamond says something similar in his book Collapse. And most of those people are living in developing nations with few resources and no wealth to buffer the effect of lost homes, flooded farms. This is why we'll be hearing the term "climate refuge" more and more as the years tool along.

Well. I'll be interested to hear more news from Copenhagen. The Copenhagen Diagnosis from the climatologists has certainly earned some attention. It includes general recommendations, such as this:
If global warming is to be limited to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, then global emissions need to peak between 2015 and 2020 and then decline rapidly. Annual per-capita emissions will have to shrink by 2050 to 85-90% of what emissions from industrialized nations were in the year 2000. A formidable task indeed, given the seeming inability of governments to fight the interests of big business.

I'm ready - what's the plan??

What I want to hear next is how will our country, and the world, make such cuts in greenhouse gas emissions? What's the plan, and who's in charge of executing it?

It's one thing to hear dire predictions and daunting must-do statements. They just get our attention (hopefully) so that we're listening when the specific plans for how we're going to change are announced. I hope President Obama will do his part, as the leader of the country that generates more greenhouse-gas emissions per capita than any other country in the world. I'll be waiting, with bated breath, for our leader to take the reins when he arrives in Copenhagen next week. I want him to tell us, convincingly, how we're going to navigate this tumultuous trip through the coming decades, in order to leave a planet worth living on for our descendants.


The Copenhagen Diagnosis: Updating the World on the Latest Climate Science.

The Copenhagen Diagnosis. Executive Summary.

Sally Kneidel, Ph.D. " One tenth of Louisiana to be submerged by 2100." 11/9/09

Greg Allen. "Florida faces drastic change from sea level rise." All Things Considered, National Public Radio. Dec 11, 2009.

Jared Diamond. Collapse. 2004.

Additional reading on cutting emissions:

Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang. "Livestock and Climate Change: What if the key factors in climate change are cows, pigs, and chickens?" Worldwatch 22(6):10-19. Nov/Dec 2009.

Sally Kneidel, PhD. " Livestock account for 51% of annual worldwide greenhouse gas emissions." 11/2/09

Key words:: Copenhagen Diagnosis climate change sea level rise Florida flooded Florida inundated

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