With the New Administration’s withdrawal from The Paris Agreement, it is more important now than ever before for Americans to understand the consequences of global climate change as well as the personal decisions they can make to combat it. The widespread use of clean energy will help to keep global temperatures low and abate sea level rise, protecting millions of Americans living in threatened coastal regions.
Climate Change Is Causing Sea Level Rise
Currently, close to 40% of the United States population lives in coastal regions; this is anticipated to grow to nearly half of the U.S. population by 2020. Occupying just a small portion of total American land area, but also contributing to a vast portion of economic value, these areas are some of the most densely populated in the country. Globally, 8 of the world’s 10 largest cities are within coastal regions and are growing larger every day. Chances are you or someone you care about lives in one of these regions; so what will you do when sea levels rise? Unfortunately, this question is all too relevant.
Sea level rise is going to one of the direst issues not only in the U.S. but globally, over the coming decades. Two centuries of industrialization have led to historical highs in carbon emissions and global temperatures. The last 70 years especially have led to drastic increases in greenhouse gas emissions and a 1℃ (1.8℉) increase in global temperatures. Last year was the warmest, globally, on record. The major cause of this warming is the abundance of greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere due to burning fossil fuels to fulfill our energy needs. These gases prevent longwave radiation from exiting the earth’s atmosphere, warming the air, the earth’s surface, and the oceans.
The leading contributor to sea level rise is the melting of land ice. Greenland, for instance, holds enough land ice to potentially raise sea levels by 20 feet; Antarctica could add another 198 feet. These are extreme scenarios and are far from any current forecasts for the next century, but hopefully, these scenarios put into perspective how important it is to understand the effects of global warming. Another source of global sea level rise is thermal expansion associated with rising air temperatures. As the oceans get warmer, the volume of water on earth increases. This is catalyzed by the melting of sea ice which historically has provided a high albedo covering for the ocean, reflecting the sun’s radiation and keeping the oceans cool.
Scientists have produced varying forecasts on the extent of sea level rise that we will be seeing this century, but it is possible that without serious changes to global temperature increases, we could be seeing slightly more than a 6-foot increase in sea levels. This is enough to displace millions of homes, schools, and hospitals while destroying vast economic resources and important infrastructure.