Global mean sea level rise, 1993-2014, with a misleading quote from antiscience dilettante Bjørn Lomborg. Graphic: Greg Laden / Science Blogs

[And he’s wrong about everything else. Desdemona had an encounter with him several years ago. When asked about overfishing on the high seas, his answer was, “The oceans are fine.” –Des]

By Greg Laden
12 March 2015

(ScienceBlogs) – Human caused greenhouse gas pollution is heating the Earth and causing the planet’s polar ice caps and other glacial ice to melt. This, along with simply heating the ocean, has caused measurable sea level rise. Even more worrisome is this: the current elevated level of CO2 in the atmosphere was associated in the past with sea levels several meters higher than they are today. Even if we slow down Carbon pollution very quickly, we can expect sea levels to be at least 8 meters higher, eventually. How soon? Nobody knows, because the rate of melting of the major glaciers in Greenland and the Antarctic is hard to measure. All we know for sure is that the rate of melting is speeding up, and that in the past, the current level of atmospheric CO2 has typically caused a very large amount of melting.

Bangladesh is low country. A very large percentage of the country is on the Bangladesh Plain, which is almost entirely below 10 meters in elevation. This is where a large portion of the population in that country lives, and where a large portion of the food is grown. The greenhouse gas pollution we have caused so far is sufficient to virtually guarantee that Bangladesh will become a very small country over the next generation or two. Much sooner than that, though, sea level rise in the region will affect, and is already affecting, freshwater reserves. We expect the largest tropical storms to become larger and more intense as an effect of human caused global warming. Sea level rise makes the storm surges from those events worse. So of immediate concern and becoming more of a problem every year is the threat of deadly and damaging tropical storms exacerbated by warming of the seas and increased sea levels.

The deadliest tropical cyclone on record occurred in Bangladesh; that was the Great Bhola Cyclone of 1970, which killed up to one half of a million people. The second deadliest cyclone known hit Bangladesh and India in great antiquity. Eight of the ten deadliest known tropical cyclones hit the region. So, tropical cyclones are already a problem in Bangladesh, and sea level rise and increased cyclone strength are going to make that much much worse.

Bjørn Lomborg, in a recent interview, told Bangladesh, the country, not to worry too much about global warming, and instead, to focus on other problems. He equated concern over sea level rise in a country where sea level rise is a very significant problem with immorality. While Lomborg may be correct to point out the obvious – that Bangladesh has a lot of problems in public health and other areas to worry about – he is wrong to suggest that sea level rise in that low lying country can be addressed just as the Dutch have managed the sea in The Netherlands.

Lomborg seems to not know much about sea level rise. He once noted that sea level rise had stopped, or even decreased, by referring to a single year’s worth of data (see graphic above). That statement and his suggestion that sea level rise should be a low priority in a country that may be the most threatened by sea level rise in the world (aside from island nations) is reminiscent of a statement by J.R. Spradley, a delegate at an international conference on climate change in 1990, speaking about sea level rise in Bangladesh. He was quoted in the Washington Post as saying “The situation is not a disaster; it is merely a change. The area won’t have disappeared; it will just be underwater. Where you now have cows, you will have fish.” (Washington Post, 30 December 1990.)

Part of Lomborg’s argument is typical for him. He generates a straw man by equating concern over climate change with concern over a meteor about to smash into the earth. In the interview he said,

Projecting scary scenarios are probably unhealthy to deal with real issues. Now, if there was a meteor hurtling towards earth, we should tell people. If there was really something destroying the earth we should definitely be telling people and doing something about it. My point is if you, for instance, look at climate change, it is often portrayed as the end of the world. But if you look at for instance the UN climate panel, they tell us by about 2070 the total cost of global warming is going to be somewhere between 0.2 and 2% of the GDP. And that emphasises what I am trying to say – global warming is real, it is a problem, it is something we should fix, but it’s not the end of the world.

The problem with this is that sea level rise is, essentially, the end of the world, if you are Bangladesh. [more]

Bjorn Lomborg Is Wrong About Bangladesh And Sea Level Rise

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