6/5/09 - rising sea levels

In today's excerpt - the U.N. estimates that sea levels will rise about a foot over the rest of this century. Yet, since 1860, our planet has experienced a sea-level rise of about a foot without calamity. Bjorn Lomborg a leading voice of the 'emerging pragmatic center', in the highly-charged debate on climate change, fully acknowledges a global warming crisis and its damaging consequences, but advocates cost-effective alternatives to Kyoto and cautions against warnings of catastrophe unsupported by current science:

"In its 2007 report, the UN estimates that sea levels will rise about a foot over the rest of the century. While this is not a trivial amount, it is also important to realize that it is certainly not outside historical experience. Since 1860, we have experienced a sea-level rise of about a foot, yet this has clearly not caused major disruptions. ...

"Often, the risk of sea-level rise is strongly dramatized in the public discourse. A cover story of U.S. News & World Report famously predicted that 'global warming could cause droughts, disease, and political upheaval', and other nasty effects, from pestilence and famine to wars and refugee movement. We will return to these concerns later, but their primary projection for sea-level rise was this: 'By midcentury, the chic Art Deco hotels that now line Miami's South Beach could stand waterlogged and abandoned.'

"Yet sea-level increase by 2050 will be about five inches—no more than the change we have experienced since 1940 and less than the change those Art Deco hotels have already stood through. Moreover, with sea-level changes occurring slowly throughout the century, economically rational foresight will make sure that protection will be afforded to property that is worth more than the protection costs, and settlement will be avoided where costs will outweigh benefits. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [part of the U.N. World Meteorological Organization] cites the total cost for U.S. national protection and property abandonment for more than a three-foot sea-level rise (more than triple what is expected in 2100) at about $5 billion to $6 billion over the century. Considering that the adequate protection costs for Miami would be just a tiny fraction of this cost spread over the century, that the property value for Miami Beach in 2006 was close to $23 billion, and that the Art Deco National Historic District is the second-largest tourist magnet in Florida after Disney World, contributing more than $11 billion annually to the economy, five inches will simply not leave Miami Beach hotels waterlogged and abandoned.

"But this of course is exactly the opposite of what we often hear."


Bjorn Lomborg


Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming


First Vintage Books Editions, August 2008


Copyright 2007, 2008 by Bjorn Lomborg


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