Rising sea-levels: Is anyone paying attention?

Sea levels are rising and more than 150 seaside cities with populations of more than a million around the world are threatened. Britain and Ireland will be affected warns Columban and eco theologian, Fr. Sean McDonagh. This article was first published in the July/August 2022 issue of the Far East Magazine.

For the past two and a half centuries, humans have burned fossil fuels to heat their homes and travel by train, cars, and planes. Burning fossil fuel has caused climate change and a rise in sea levels If, during the next three decades the average temperature reaches two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels this will have profound impact on our oceans.

Looking at the commitments made by politicians attending COP26 at the climate change conference in Glasgow in November 2021, the average global temperature is expected to rise by between 2.7 to 3 degrees Celsius in the next 30 years. This would be a disaster for our world and our oceans. As the oceans get warmer icecaps in the Arctic, Antarctica, Greenland, the Himalayas the Andes, and the Alps will melt.

As a result, many scientists fear that the Florida-size Thwaites glacier in the Antarctic will collapse and release huge amounts of ice into the southern oceans. Writing in New Scientist in February, Simon Usborne warns that this would lead to more than a half metre rise in sea-levels by 2050 which would be a disaster for the planet. Today, the Thwaites glacier’s 160-kilometre face is totally exposed to the warming ocean.

Oceanographer, Stefam Rahmstorfat from the University of Potsdam in Germany, points out that there are more than 150 seaside cities with populations of more than a million residents situated around the world. Cities such as Jakarta, Manila, Rio De Janeiro, and Miami would be flooded.  In the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, half a million people live a metre above the sea-level. Scientists now believe that in a worst-case scenario, sea levels could rise by 2.5 metres in the 21st century.

The former president of Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed pleaded with global politicians attending COP26 not to compromise on the 1.5-degree Celsius rise above industrial levels. He told the media that we cannot sign a suicide pact. Current commitments are putting the world on track for a calamitous 2.7 degrees Celsius rise, according to the United Nations.

With the unprecedented heatwaves at both Poles this year climate breakdown could happen more quickly. Such an outcome would be tragic for the quarter of a billion people who live less than two metres above sea level. Sea levels in Florida have risen by about one inch per decade. Scientists predict that the southern third of Florida could be under water by the year 2,100. Across the globe in Bangladesh, that country could lose 11 percent of its land and this will affect and estimated 15 million people by 2050.

But Europe is also vulnerable. The non-profit organisation Climate Central reminds us that Britain will be one of the countries most affected from changing sea levels. In London, for example, rising sea levels could cause the Thames to flood and submerge vast areas of the city of London.

Ireland will not be spared.  In Dublin a special map has been made to explore sea level rise and coastal flood threats. Howth could become an island and places like Fairview, Clontarf, Sandymount and Dalkey may also look extremely different in the future because of severe flooding.

In Donegal, Letterkenny is expected to lose landmass to the oceans. The sea-side town Bundoran, one of Ireland’s chief surfing spots, could also be flooded. Cork, Ireland’s largest county will also be affected by the rising tides, with areas such as Cobh and Youghal in danger. The areas in Cork City which will bear the brunt of the damage are the famous Marina Market, University College Cork and Páirc Ui Chaoimh

In 2020 and 2021 we learned a lot about how severe weather caused wildfires, droughts and floods affecting many people around the world. But we also need to take sea-levels rise more seriously and take steps to avoid it as much as possible. Even during Russia’s brutal and illegal war in the Ukraine the only way we can do this is by lowering our greenhouse gas emissions and not follow the advice of populist politicians such as Democratic Senator from West Virginia, Joe Manchin would seem more focused on protecting the fossil fuel industry than in protecting the planet.

Tackling climate change will not be easy, but unless we do it competently, we will leave an irreparable damaged planet for all future generations.

Read more

There's been terrible flooding recently in Pakistan caused by the climate crisis.

Read more from our missionaries in Pakistan