In a world full of conflict, it is notable when nearly 200 countries can agree, at least in principle, on a matter of great importance to the entire planet. The accords reached in the recent United Nations climate summit in Paris finally brought widespread recognition of the problem of global climate change and agreement that action must be taken to address it. However, some are frustrated that many important changes were postponed until 2030.
Basking in the unusual warmth of our late fall and early winter, it is easy for us to discount the problems caused by global warming. Looking at the bigger global picture, though, many throughout the world are not so pleased. About 25,000 islands are spread throughout the Pacific and Indian Oceans and nearly 2.5 million people live there. A large portion of them are currently endangered by rising sea levels. This is not something that might happen in the next few decades; it's happening now. And it's not just a handful of little islands with a few hundred people.
The Republic of Kiribati, so concerned about rising sea level, has endorsed a plan to buy land in Fiji with the intention of relocating its 103,000 people from 32 atolls and one island. A large portion of the 400,000 people that inhabit the Maldives' 1,100 islands are similarly endangered, their president at the time being one of the people that spoke of nations' plights at the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009. The overwhelming portion of Micronesia's 107,000 people live within a few feet of sea level on the island nation's 607 islands. Their ambassador to the United Nations, Masao Nakayama, has passionately appealed to the world about their plight. "Even a small rise of one meter...would already have a devastating effect," he said. "If it gets to a meter or higher, the islands would get uninhabitable."
In just these three island nations it seems likely that about a half million people will be permanently dislocated. Those three countries alone are home to about the same number of people as Blair and its surrounding counties. It begs the question of how we would feel if these six counties were slowly inundated with water over the next quarter century. Where would we go? How would we pay for our relocation? How would our new home handle the flood of refugees? These are questions being asked today in many parts of the world and it's much harder to ignore them when we realize that these are real people, not abstract statistics. Some of the dangers in other places are more subtle but every bit as serious, for the poorest places in the world impacted by both rising sea level and climate change are the least equipped to deal with the changes.
Nations like our own will likely find the resources to deal with many of the changes. Even here, though, those costs will be significant. Replacing water in the Southwest when winter snow packs shrink and keeping flood waters out of low lying coastal communities from higher sea levels may cost trillions. But for many of us, it will be only inconvenience and expense. For many others, it will be much more.
The New York Times did an extensive series of articles about the summit.
Mother Nature News highlighted endangered pacific island nations.
Climate and Weather
Understanding Pennsylvania Snow
The Flood of 1947
The Hottest Day
Rising Sea Level
Cold Winters & Big Pictures
Rainy Junes: 1972 & 2015
Penn State's Weather World
The Paris Accord
2016's Peculiar Snowstorm
Two Different Winters: 1936 & 2016
The Year Without A Summer
Pennsylvania's Hottest Summer