Climate change will continue to hurt America if we do nothing
For too many people around the world, climate change is, without any exaggeration, at their front door. It won’t be long before more Americans – in Florida and across the south-east, for instance – will have to live with and confront these risks every day. That’s why the Paris climate talks are so important.
There are 31 Alaskan villages already facing “imminent threats” from warming ocean waters, erosion and flooding, according to a 2009 Government Accountability Office assessment. At least a dozen have relocated or are exploring relocation options. The same is happening elsewhere, both in the US and around the world.
That’s why Barack Obama recently made a historic trip to Alaska to raise awareness of climate change’s devastating impacts on the state’s seas, land and people. As he very rightly said at the time: “climate change is no longer some far-off problem ... [I]t is happening here. It is happening now”. His visit put the spotlight right where it needs to be: on the people already seeing the impacts that lie ahead if we don’t take action.
One of the threatened Alaskan villages, Shishmaref, is located on the barrier island of Sarichef. Over the years, the Inupiat community who live there have seen their coastline vanish, sometimes by as much as 20 feet a year. The community dates back some 400 years and now faces the harsh reality that peoples’ homes are literally disappearing.
The Inupiat must decide whether to leave their ancestral land, which has sustained them and kept their traditions alive for centuries. The cost of moving each of the approximately 600 villagers is estimated at $300,000 per resident – if an appropriate inland site can be found at all.
Around 4,000 miles to the south, the Republic of the Marshall Islands – a beautiful chain of 29 low-lying coral atolls and five islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean – is facing the same problem. The atolls of the Marshall Islands are narrow and practically level with the sea, leaving their 68,000 residents nowhere to go as rising sea levels and increasingly frequent floods threaten to swamp the country. The country’s limited water supply is already at risk from flooding as salt water inundates fresh water sources and damages scarce agricultural land.
These threats are not confined to Alaska and the Marshall Islands – the mainland US is at risk. According to a July report from the Risky Business Project: “If we continue on our current greenhouse gas emissions pathway, the southeastern United States and Texas will likely experience significant drops in agricultural yield and labor productivity, along with increased sea level rise, higher energy demand, and rising mortality rates”. The report highlighted the fact that the region is “heavily invested in physical manufacturing, agriculture and energy infrastructure” – each of which face severe climate-related risks in the near future.
This phenomenon shows no signs of stopping by itself. A report released earlier this year by the US Geological Survey found that climate changes during the 21st century are expected to make the highest waves even higher and the strongest winds even stronger across the Pacific Islands. There is now a real risk that a “King Wave”, as they are already known in the Marshall Islands, could sweep everyone on the island into the Pacific Ocean. The Marshallese, like the Inupiat in Alaska, cannot afford the luxury of viewing climate change as a myth.
Deniers who reject the overwhelming evidence of climate change only need to visit Shishmaref or the Marshalls to see the physical evidence of rising seas and the damage they’re doing to human life. The debate we all needed to have years ago, and is now happening in Paris, is what to do about these risks.
The least we can do is put aside false arguments about whether this is important enough to take action. We need to mitigate the impacts of rising seas and temperatures for vulnerable populations already feeling the heat. We also need to do it for the rest of us, because we won’t be immune to these and other climate risks in the future.
If we keep posturing instead of taking meaningful action, too many of us – from the United States to Europe to south-east Asia to the Pacific – will wake up one day soon and find our own homes at risk, no easy avenues for retreat in sight and no explanation for why we waited too long to act.
By: Raúl M Grijalva
Source: The Guardian
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