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March 24, 2006

20 ft Sea Level Rises!!!!

One more for the worriers.

Sea levels will rise much faster than previously thought leading to the flooding of many cities unless major steps are taken to curb carbon dioxide emissions this century, scientists warn today.

They say that the planet will see a huge retreat of ice sheets once a threshold of warming is crossed. That would produce a catastrophic sea level rise of at least 20ft, drowning the centre of London and displacing millions in Britain alone.

Quick, quick! Kill capitalism now! On with the hair shirts, shoot anyone releasing carbon!

"This is a real eye-opener," said Prof Overpeck. "We could have a six metre sea level rise as early as 2600 - 500 years from now. If we warm the Arctic (and Antarctic) more than it warmed 129,000 years ago, then the rate of ice sheet retreat and sea level rise could be even greater."

Prof Bill McGuire, of the Benfield Hazard Research Centre, University College London, said: "Last year a six metre [20ft] rise was thought to be at least 1,000 years away. This year it is 500 as the Greenland ice sheet continues to fall apart at an accelerating rate."

Ah. 2600?

The studies show that greenhouse gas increases over the next century could warm the Arctic by between three and five degrees Celsius in summer. This would make the Arctic free of sea ice by 2100. The process will become irreversible some time in the second half of this century.

"We need to start serious measures to reduce greenhouse gases within the next decade," said Prof Overpeck. "If we don't do something soon, we're committed to four to six metres of sea level rise in the future."

Well, actually, that’s the bit you’ve got to prove. That only radical action now can stop that future event. Me, I wouldn’t want to predict the state of technology in 594 year’s time. I wouldn’t, for example, want to bet against someone inventing a method of extracting CO2 from the atmosphere for sequestration. Or that half of humanity might be living in space then. Or that in 15 years time we’ll all be using fuel cells.

A totally absurd calculation. Seriously silly, and I do hope I’m using this calculator in the correct manner. If we take current world production, ie Gross Global Product (which is about $50 trillion or so isn’t it?) and call that 1. Then, with no annual additions, plug in a likely growth rate. Say the 2% trend rate of the industrialised economies. Over 500 years that gives us 19,956. That is, that those facing that sea level rise will be some 20,000 times richer than us. Or if we use the 4% global growth rate, 328 million times richer than us.

There are, essentially, two possibilities here.

1) I’ve entirely cocked up that calculation. Entirely possible, even likely.
2) We should act like good little liberals. That is, redistribute from the rich to the poor. That is, from those in the future vastly richer than ourselves to us. the poor. I.e. do nothing now and let them rich buggers deal with it.

The Times slightly gets it wrong.

That means that the models of sea-level rise used to predict an increase of up to 3ft by 2100 may have significantly underestimated its ultimate extent, which could be as great as 20ft.

Err, no. What is being claimed is that the temperatures which might cause such sea level rises will be reached by 2100. But it will take a further 5 centuries for those temperatures to actually create the sea level rises. Takes time to happen you see.

March 24, 2006 in Climate Change | Permalink


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You have the calculation right (you could just use Excel (1.02^500). But these long-term things are quite sensitive - what if the problem is getting worse by 2% a year? That would negate it entirely.

And that's surely the issue. He's not saying that in 500 years time the problem will present itself exactly as it is now (not that this necessarily to say that I don't think these long term predictions aren't intrinsically silly).

Posted by: Matthew | Mar 24, 2006 8:23:48 AM

but didn't I just read that at the current rate sea levels are rising 0.4mm a year? In 500 years isn't that er, 20cm rather than 20ft?

Posted by: Mark T | Mar 24, 2006 8:32:31 AM

The estimates here seem a bit higher.


Posted by: Matthew | Mar 24, 2006 8:51:31 AM

"redistribute from the rich to the poor. That is, from those in the future vastly richer than ourselves to us. the poor. I.e. do nothing now and let them rich buggers deal with it."

The problem with that approach is that in the meantime we (today's rich) will be screwing over today's poor: see here - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/4839834.stm

So logically, we should increase aid to those countries worst affected, right?

Posted by: Jim | Mar 24, 2006 9:50:49 AM

Aid Jim???? Surely you can't have failed to notice that Aid doesn't make the poor richer...

Posted by: Andrew Paterson | Mar 24, 2006 10:28:59 AM


Well, that's what the evidence shows. If you have any evidence to show otherwise, please do tell.

Posted by: Jim | Mar 24, 2006 11:02:09 AM

Jim: The late Lord Bauer observed that international aid is a transfer from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries (and thence to rich bankers in Geneva). I've often seen it asserted that international aid (with the possible exception of military aid) has never been demonstrated to have a positive effect in increasing a country's wealth. If you have statistics demonstrating otherwise, I'd be interested in taking a look at them. Perhaps you could post them on this thread?

Posted by: xj | Mar 24, 2006 11:59:43 AM

So Airborne plant food concentrations will go from 0.03% to 0.04%.


Posted by: Rob Read | Mar 24, 2006 12:00:39 PM


Yes, there has been quite a lot of good research on this since Bauer spoke his piece. Probably the best research out there is this: http://www.cgdev.org/content/publications/detail/2744

It's been discussed quite a lot, including on Tim's site here: http://timworstall.typepad.com/timworstall/2005/03/owen_on_whether.html

and on mine here: http://blog.ctrlbreak.co.uk/?p=267
and here: http://blog.ctrlbreak.co.uk/?p=278

Posted by: Jim | Mar 24, 2006 12:39:16 PM

Perhaps anecdotally you could provide me a single nation that has become wealthy through aid Jim? Given this is surely the objective, poor countries becoming as rich as us right?

Posted by: Andrew Paterson | Mar 24, 2006 1:13:22 PM

Andrew - by itself, aid isn't going to make a country rich. But the evidence I linked to shows that aid generally makes poor countries *better off* than they otherwise would have been. Which is the opposite of what you said. So if you have any problem with that evidence, as opposed to just more hand-waving, I'd like to hear it.

Posted by: Jim | Mar 24, 2006 1:42:24 PM

Sorry Jim I thought we were talking about aiming to make developing countries richer to the extent that they can deal with the potential effects of global warming in the future, a cash intensive problem no? Hence I was a tad confused that aid was the first thing you could think of, given historically not a single nation has risen from 3rd world to 1st world status due to aid. Aid is useful for 'firefighting' not dealing with the fundamental problems poor nations face in attempting to leave poverty.

Posted by: Andrew Paterson | Mar 24, 2006 2:23:00 PM

Saw Stern lecture on this last week regarding progress on upcoming report for Blair & Brown. You'll perhaps be glad to hear that his viewpoint was that market forces would probably be the only way to incentivise anti-global-warming behaviours, especially in countries such as India and Brazil.

Of course this would mean placing a value on carbon sinks such as rainforest that would encourage carbon-sink-rich people to purvey carbon rights others are currently getting for free. One man's market-led solution is another's market restriction.

Posted by: auntymarianne | Mar 24, 2006 8:41:27 PM

As well as income, don't forget the rate of growth of human knowledge. It's been roughly doubling every 25 years with no conceivable end in sight. So we'll know a million times as much in 500 years time as we do now.

My feeling is that if we don't want sea levels to rise in 2600, we'll just tell them not to.

Posted by: David Gillies | Mar 24, 2006 9:13:34 PM

"I thought we were talking about aiming to make developing countries richer to the extent that they can deal with the potential effects of global warming in the future, a cash intensive problem no?"

Given that the little aid we give has been proven to make poor countries better off, then yes, I'd be all in favour of giving them a lot more to help them deal properly with global warming. I'm still waiting for you to provide your evidence that aid wouldn't help. If you're not just bullshitting, that is.

Posted by: Jim | Mar 25, 2006 12:34:34 AM

Get real. The effects of global warming will soon not only be irreversible, they will increasingly recieve positive feedback from all sorts of directions and will sped up exponentially. That means we could see as much as 90mtrs sea level rise within 200 years.

Unless several large emmitters of CO2 and other green house gasses, such as USA,Australia,China,India, Japan, get a grip we will all suffer and our grandchildren will hate us for our ignorance, and dereliction of duty.


Posted by: geoff cox | Jun 13, 2006 12:21:01 PM