Sinking Cities

Increasing sea levels that are affecting many parts of the world but
Puerto Vallarta’s future seems to be safe. But for those of us who love this paradise on the bay, we’re here only for part of the year, and then we must “go home,” wherever it is.

Let’s hope that your home is not Jakarta, the present capital of Indonesia and home to 10,600,000. It’s not only the fourth largest city in the world by population, but it is also known as “the world’s fastest-sinking city.” Parts of it are already below sea-level, and the place has sunk thirteen feet in the last thirty years. Six weeks ago Indonesian President Joko Widodo decided that the risk to the capital was too significant to ignore and that Indonesia must now build a new one. Moving ten million people to higher ground in the next thirty years will be a stretch.

Let’s hope that your home is not on one of “the small island developing states”of SIDS. An intergovernmental organization of low-lying coastal and small island countries was formed in 1990, thirty years ago almost, to consolidate the voices of people living in these places to address global warming. Fifty-two island nations belong to SIDS and are dotted around the Pacific, the Caribbean, the Atlantic, the Indian Ocean, and the South China Sea.

“The 52 [small island] nations are home to over 62 million people, emit less than one percent of global greenhouse gases, yet they suffer disproportionately from the climate change that global emissions cause,” says Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme.

The people of each island nation face their own unique challenges, but some common disasters occur across all these nations. As sea level rises, they face increased flooding and erosion of their shorelines, freshwater becomes undrinkable and agricultural land is unusable when seawater seeps in.
Look at the nation of the Maldive Islands located in the Indian Ocean. It’s the lowest country on the planet. The average height of its 1,200 islands, which spread across 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles ) is only 1.2 meters (four feet) above sea level. Already, ever-higher waves are encroaching on the shores of the lowest islands and are eroding the beaches. When a tropical cyclone or tsunami wave approaches, there is nowhere for residents to go, and they must get out in a hurry. Many residents have even been forced to leave their homes forever, and whole communities have been shattered.
Let’s hope that your home is not in New York, Vancouver or, heaven forbid, Miami? You, too, might want to think about whether your home will survive another thirty years.
Klaus Jacob is a research scientist at Columbia’s University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and has been studying the effects of climate change on New York for decades. He was featured in a New York Magazine article.
His findings suggest that a child born today in Manhattan may live to see the waters in and around the city rise by six feet over the next seventy years, as the consequences of global warming.
The deluge will begin slowly, and irregularly, and will confound human perceptions of change. Areas that never had flash floods will start to experience them, in part because global warming will also increase precipitation. High tides will spill over old bulkheads when there is a full moon. People will start carrying rubber boots to work. All the commercial skyscrapers, housing, cultural institutions, and sewage treatment plants that currently sit near the waterline will be forced to contend with routine inundation. And cataclysmic floods will become more common. Now, a surge of six feet has a one percent chance of happening each year — it’s what climatologists call a “100-year” storm. By 2050, if sea-level rise happens as rapidly as many scientists think it will, today’s hundred-year floods will become five times more likely, making mass destruction a once-a-generation occurrence. Like a stumbling boxer, the city, whether it’s New York, Vancouver or Miami, will try to keep its guard up, but the sea will only gain strength.
At the moment, Puerto Vallarta seems to be safe from increasing sea level. But that assumes that not much will change in the next twenty or thirty years and that’s not a safe assumption.

The Maldivian cabinet held a meeting underwater to highlight the need for action on climate change…in 2009

John Warren on Email
John Warren
John Warren is in charge of Publicity for the International Friendship Club (IFC). His articles describe the programs and charities that IFC supports, the sources of income of IFC and the social experiences, lectures and classes that members can enjoy.
He splits his time between Puerto Vallarta and Lethbridge, Alberta. In the winter months he writes for the IFC, this summer he’s focusing his writing on the environment.