I’m rather worried about… Greenland

If you’ve spotted the reference to BBC radio’s Mrs Dale, you’ll appreciate the understate-ment. Being worried that Jim might be working too hard and getting overtired or wondering what will happen when the Greenland icepack melts are, after all, ball parks apart. These days sadly no one worries about Jim because his dear lady has not graced the airwaves since 1969. How time flies when you’re busy ruining a planet! But the Greenland icepack is still with us – for the time being at least. I had occasion to think about it the other day, in terms more concrete and immediate than usual, when my ex told me she was buying a house in a low-lying part of the Vendée. It took me an hour or so in the Internet but I finally discovered this wonderful little tool that measures spot height, and so I was able to reassure her that her house was well above the 7m line and she wouldn’t get her feet wet – even if many of those living between her house and the sea would – when all that ice melts.

For that icepack is melting, all 3,000,000 cubic kilometres of it, and it’s melting ever more quickly. It’s melting on top, it’s melting underneath and it’s even melting from the inside out. It’s turning into one vast honeycomb of rotten ice, little more than a shell filled with air and rushing water. This is the direct result of global warming. The 1°C of global warming that’s been slowly accruing over the last one hundred years or so has been enough to set this and other changes in motion. But global warming ain’t finished. It continues and is accelerating. The benchmark MIT study in 2009 concluded with 95% probability that we would gain another 4° by the year 2100 (see here and, for the techies, here).

To my mind then there is not the slightest doubt that in twenty years’ time there will be none of the Greenland ice left and sea level will therefore be about 7m higher than it is today. It might even take a lot less than twenty years. Applying Sod’s Law and the remorseless logic of an exponential curve, I think it could be as little as five years – at the present time, there’s no way of knowing. But melt it will. And the possibility that it might melt soon and very quickly ought to be, as Mrs Dale would have put it, of some considerable concern.

Using the tool I mentioned above, I set out to explore the post-melt coastline. In Fareham, the bus station will be under water, as will nearly all of Belvoir Close and the Wallington roundabout. In Portchester, the castle and the White Hart will be awash and Reg’s paint factory, if it’s still there, will be standing in one metre of water. In Gosport, the War Memorial Hospital and my nephew’s house will be flooded, as will Forton Road back as far as Brockhurst. In Ipswich, Sainsbury’s, the Royal Mail sorting office, the football ground and the mainline railway to the West of the station will all be under water. In London, Canary Wharf will be under 4m of water, and the Wapping, Bermondsey, Rotherhythe and Canada Water underground stations will be flooded. And that’s only for starters.

Other areas that will be affected (obviously much less important than Fareham and Ipswich, but people live there too) include: most of Florida, much of New York and Manhattan, all of the Tokyo docklands, all of Shanghai, most of Calcutta and Chennai (including the cricket ground), much of Bombay and its surroundings, Melbourne airport, Adelaide airport…

This is going to happen. Even if we were to eliminate all CO2 emissions tomorrow, it would still happen, because of the current level of atmospheric CO2 and increasing seepage from melting permafrost. Yet we don’t hear a word of this from political leaders around the world who, perversely, still seek to maintain the fiction – at least in public – that global warming can be limited to 2°. To a certain extent, this is understandable: they can’t do anything to stop the sea rising; and even halfway serious measures to mitigate the effects would be politically and financially unthinkable. Just imagine the reaction if the Conseil Général de la Vendée were to announce plans to evacuate and isolate all coastal areas below the 10m line – with little or no compensation to boot! Forget it – it ain’t gonna happen.

That’s why I and countless other bloggers keep hammering away at the facts. For if you, dear reader, can be made aware of the true scope and urgency of the danger you face,  then you can decide what you are going to do. And you might start by checking out the exact altitude of your house, your place of work and your children’s school.

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