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I've brought up sea level rise several times on my blog — being an armchair problem solver, it always fascinates me how different branches of science can "prove" something. In science, some proofs are simple to understand, but with something as complex as climate change, how can one assert, or prove with accuracy, climate changes' impact on sea level? Are scientists allowed to guess? Well, yes, and they are!
The more reliable knowledge that climate science delivers, the more we discover the wonderful world of mathematical accuracy with respect to complex mathematics. Calculating the error on answers is part of a the complete answer — oh, this is bringing back ugly memories, argh! Formally, I had to study a course on measurement accuracy, something I thought I had completely repressed — math trigger warning? By applying an error quantification to resultants, we can understand the accuracy of the measurement methodology — If X = 10 +/- 1,000,000, well, utilize a more accurate method, am I right?
Understanding how "strong" an answer "is" critical. In all measurements, the uncertainty of said measurements is typically contained at the end of a long line of dusty footnotes. Yawn, I found it boring back then, but when it comes to climate change and sea level these uncertainties can't be ignored, although sometimes still very boring.
When scientists communicate findings, this numerical analysis is typically not discussed, scientists typically only announce "stuff" when it's confirmed as reliable, much like how Lawrence Krauss won't say "boo" until an accurate announcement is possible. Yawn?
In science, some facts don't require much analysis while others are deeply steeped in natural uncertainty. If one isn't fluent with numerical analysis it can be difficult to effectively discuss these complex issues. In the book, High Tide On Main Street", John Englander cites that more than 75% of global trade cities are at immediate risk of sea level, within the next 100 years. John did a great job at explaining, in simple terms, the challenges that sea level will create for our global economy — economists that don't recognize sea level risks in trade will be sunk.
Originally, scientists were quite conservative in their sea level rise estimates — they could not quantify, well enough, impacts of sea level and climate change. As we understand more "tipping points" in climate, it looks like these original estimates were too conservative. Seems the hardest climate risk to communicate are unknown tipping points — we don't know what they are, or how they impact the total complexity of climate. There is no magic science formula to tell scientists all the climate change unknowns lurking just beneath the surface.
Uncertainty is a nonlinear game, something Bjorn Lomborg completely ignored in his numerical analysis* in his book, The Skeptical Environmentalist. When Bjorn failed to qualify the "strength" of his "calculations", I became quite suspicious, for good reason.
Predictions and analysis of sea level are becoming more periodic, recently James Hanson, retired NASA climate change scientist-gone-radical advocate, wrote that sea level is dangerously underestimated. The science community will discuss these predictions. Is James correct? Is James wrong? What if James is correct?
Regardless of what James thinks, Canada will lose the most coastline in the world. Some assert 1,000 homes on Prince Edward Island are at risk. How will sea level rise impact Canada's coastal residents and infrastructure? For some, it isn't an immediate concern, but northern communities are already struggling with a hungry ocean lapping up thawed permafrost shorelines. By increasing arctic sea level, how much faster will current shorelines be erased? Larger cities like Halifax, Montreal, Quebec City, Vancouver will face the same challenges that New York is facing.
If you are triggered by sticker shock, looking at the costs of ignoring sea level might be too much. By disrupting a global economy, how will climate refugees disrupt the fragile peace of some regions at risk? Nuclear energy stations around the world face sea level. Massive shipping ports, half of Florida, this stuff is big. Erasing 75% of ports of trade in the next 100 years matters. Can economists calculate the future value of a working economy?
As science gains more knowledge, our planning for sea level will become more reliable. The Pentagon understands this security risk, they rank it number one for a reason. With global unrest as it stands, the estimated global deaths of 100,000,000 people before 2030 is a grim future, but how accurate is this estimate, what if it's too low?
* - Um, like, there was no numerical analysis.