I love Bali: Shameful silence on climate change
You might be excused in thinking that an 11 millimeter (mm) rise in global sea levels is insignificant. When you realize that the 11 mm rise in question has happened in the last 20 years it should however set the alarm bells ringing wherever you live. Indonesia, with the second longest coastline in the world, is at serious risk from encroachment and flooding caused directly by this rise. The UN estimates that at least 35 million Indonesians are at immediate and direct risk from rising sea levels, that, of course, includes many of us in Bali.
Last month, Science journal published a collaborative 20-year research program between NASA and scientists from all over the world. It reported that between 1992 and 2011, the ice sheets of Greenland, East Antarctica, West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula changed in mass losing a staggering 4 trillion tons of ice. They calculate that since 1992, the melting polar ice sheets have contributed, on average, 0.59 millimeter a year to the sea-level rise. (Source: Science November 2012, Volume 338.)
It notes that over the last two decades sea levels have increased at twice the pace of the previous 100 years, and far quicker than originally expected.
The extra water released in the ever-worsening annual north and south ice melts is due to rising global temperatures, both air and ocean. The additional water mass created by the melt, however, only accounts for 30 percent of the total increase; the remainder is a result of thermal expansion. As global temperatures rise, the oceans absorb about 80 percent of the extra heat. This increases ocean temperatures and when water heats up it expands. Much of the past century’s rises in sea level are due simply to warmer oceans taking up more space.
We most often focus on CO2 emissions as a cause of rising temperatures, but there is a greenhouse gas event currently underway in the Siberian Arctic that could accelerate global warming beyond even our worst estimates. This means that a rapid and extreme climate change is a real possibility over the next decade. If it follows historical patterns, the change will be so swift that humanity may be relegated to mere passengers as we watch our world change beyond recognition.
Methane is a gas that is at least 30 times more potent that CO2 and huge reserves are known to exist in the Arctic. The warming oceans are not only melting the above ground ice, they are also melting the undersea permafrost that has for millennia locked the methane safely away allowing life to flourish.
In addition to an increase in the normal rate of release, we are now witnessing vast gas eruptions. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of huge new fountains of methane up to 1,000 meters across are being surveyed by scientists in the Siberian Arctic. We are recording the highest level of methane in the atmosphere for 400,000 years.
The sub-ice environment is biologically active, meaning that organic carbon trapped from as long ago as 35 million years is, or has already been, metabolized into carbon dioxide and methane by active microbes. The nature and speed of the release when added to the rapid manmade global CO2 issues could take us to the tipping point, the point of no return, a lot sooner than even the gloomiest predictions.
In addition to the rising temperatures, oceans and weather pattern changes, the subsequent and rapid depletion of the ozone reduces the planet’s ability to deflect solar winds resulting in persistent and deadly radiation consequences. Life as we know it may change beyond comprehension, and in a very short time.
Most scientists now agree the warming of the planet will continue and probably accelerate without drastic measures to arrest it. As a result oceans will continue to rise and estimates suggest that by 2100 they will be about 2 meters higher than today. More dramatic scenarios relating to the methane release suggest a rise of at least 7 m is possible. That is enough to obliterate cities from London to Jakarta. The devastation and human consequences for the many island communities in Indonesia is simply too horrific to contemplate.
We can mitigate some of the effects, but it requires a level of commitment, planning and investment that seems sadly lacking both at home and across the globe. The sheer magnitude of this threat is seemingly being ignored, possibly to the peril of all.