Ever have water in your basement? Uninvited water from a creek that rose above its banks or water rising up from the ground with a spring thaw? What a nuisance. Years ago I lived a few hundred feet from the side of a small mountain in the Southern Adirondacks, and without fail, every spring when the snow melted and the ground thawed, we’d get a few inches of water in the basement. To remove the water, I would use a flat snow shovel to push the water across the concrete basement floor towards the sump pump. Fortunately it never got more than an inch or two deep, but it was problematic. It was an inconvenience.
Ever have sea water rise up and flood your property and home? Salty water that saturated the ground, contaminated your drinking water, and severely damaged your home? I can’t even begin to imagine such a scenario. Most others can’t either unless they’ve been directly impacted by a major coastal weather event such as Superstorm Sandy, Typhoon Haiyan, Hurricane Katrina….. But if you are a small island state nation resident, salt water lapping at your door has become frighteningly all too familiar.
A weak low pressure system, a lunar high tide, or fetch driven waves are all culpable for flooding. You might wonder, why build a home so close to the ocean? I mean, people should know better. Right? Well, small island nation cultures span centuries, and until recently managed just fine the periodic hurricane or typhoon. Sadly, periodicity, predictability, and consistency no longer are the rule as climate change impacts gain momentum. Today, much like Norfolk, VA, Miami, FL, and other low-lying cities, sea level flooding is common. The stark and unfair difference between residents of small island state nations such as Majuro in the Marshall Islands and those in larger countries is acreage and altitude. Where do you go when you’re living on an island a mere ten feet above sea level at its highest point? If you live in Miami, you move inland or out-of-state. But for the 25,000 Majuro residents, there is no place to move other than to another country. In the end, you have become an environmental refugee.
I have Facebook friends living in vulnerable small island nations, and their alarming comments and pictures posted earlier this month on Facebook are another reminder of the suffering climate change is causing. While I lament the nuisance water that occasionally got in my basement, friends are threatened by loss of home and place. Their (and our) suffering is sure to grow many fold as atmospheric anthropogenic gases increase and sea levels continue encroaching inland. From the Intergovernmental Panel on climate Change Report, “Global mean sea level will continue to rise during the 21st century. Under all RCP scenarios, the rate of sea level rise will very likely exceed that observed during 1971 to 2010 due to increased ocean warming and increased loss of mass from glaciers and ice sheets” (IPCC, 2013, p. 25). In other words, we must act now.
(Photos of Majuro, courtesy of Dustin Langidrik).
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IPCC, 2013: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Stocker, T.F., G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S.K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex, and P.> Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, 1535 pp.