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Op-Ed: With sea levels rising rapidly, tough decisions for humanity

By Michael Krebs     Jan 13, 2013 in Science
If a recent scientific study is correct on the human-induced impact on arctic ice melt and sea level rise, humanity is facing two grim choices - expensive urban planning options or managing our core overpopulation problem.
A report by the Third National Climate Assessment, covered on Friday by the Los Angeles Times, concluded that climate change is now a present-day matter and not the concern of a future generation.
"Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present," the report said, as cited by the Los Angeles Times. "Americans are noticing changes all around them. Summers are longer and hotter, and periods of extreme heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced. Winters are generally shorter and warmer."
It is worth noting that the report - assembled by 240 scientists, business leaders, and other experts - did not present any policy suggestions or solutions of any kind to the problem; however, a study by University of Colorado geologist Bill Hay found a more tangible line between human behavior and its impact on the global environment. Hay's study, as reported by Science Daily in November 2012, uncovered a correlation between global water mining activity - for agriculture and other water management uses - and sea level rise thought accelerated arctic ice melt and additional freshwater volume delivered into the world's oceans. Hay's findings point to a serious escalation of warm water pumped at alarming rates into the oceans, and this development is not included in any of the modeling used to predict the rate of arctic ice melt.
"So it's a big heat pump that brings heat to the Arctic," Hay said, according to Science Daily. "That's not in any of the models."
This means that the arctic ice caps are melting at a considerably faster rate than previously thought. This also means that humanity is running out of time to prepare properly and to adjust to the new and pending reality imposed by a rapid sea level rise. One could readily observe the impact of November's Hurricane Sandy in terms of sea level rise, but questions remain on what to do about the disturbing problem of a rising ocean.
Let's assume for a moment that human beings can reverse the trajectory of rising sea levels over the course of a truncated timeline. Given now the known contribution that global water mining grants to rising oceans and melting arctic ice caps, the most meaningful step we could take to reverse the impact of this contribution would be to stop the practice entirely.
Water mining for deep reserves trapped beneath the earth, also known as fossil water, is used extensively in overpopulated regions to sustain the agriculture and the thirst of the already strained population. Fossil aquifers exist underneath some surprisingly dry places, such as the Saharan Desert, and the high volume of runoff produced by these deep reserves underwrites the stark reality of the melting polar ice caps.
This leaves humanity with a disturbing question. Are we willing to ban the practice of water mining in the face of human overpopulation - with the end result of the ban yielding large-scale famine and death? Even with water mining practices in place, more than 1 billion people do not have access to adequate drinking water.
Our other option assumes that human beings do not have the means to reverse global climate change, however ambitious our anthropocentric thinking may be. In an environment of rising sea levels, swelling at a faster rate than previously imagined, should the world adjust its urban planning models further inland and on higher ground?
Clearly, an infrastructure adjustment on this scale will have enormous financial implications for the global economy. Most of the world's cities reside in settings adjacent to oceans and have been planned around the viability of ocean-bearing ports. Inland urban planning would require more robust railways attached to more flexible and mobile ocean ports. Agility in urban planning and intelligence in the face of environmental reality appear to be the more logical steps for the intermediate term.
It is unlikely that governments will take draconian steps on the overpopulation issues facing our species, even though overpopulation is the root cause of numerous challenges facing our collective societies. According to the WorldWatch Institute, human population will number more than 9 billion by 2050.
There remains a raging debate on the nature of human-induced climate change - however, we now have a silver bullet in the water mining matter. We will need to plan around this, and we will likely need to surrender our current coast lines.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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