Farewell Miami, Shanghai and New York?

INTERESTING city, Miami. Good food and good beaches, handsome architecture and a thriving music scene. It also has a very high crime, right enough, but, on the whole, it would be a shame if it disappeared.

That’s not going to happen, I hear you saying. And maybe it won’t. Except … Well, except there’s this glacier in West Antarctica that isn’t looking as stable as it used to. And that might ultimately mean bad news for low-lying cities such as Miami. Oh,and New York and Tokyo and Shanghai. And as for the Maldives …

There is always a danger of doom-mongering when one looks at the issue of climate change, but in the case of the Thwaites Glacier it’s a little difficult to avoid. After all, it has already been called the “doomsday” glacier.

It is a massive ice sheet, 80 miles wide, that is approximately the size of Great Britain. If it were to collapse, it would add 65 centimetres to global sea levels.

And that’s just the start. The greater fear is that any collapse of Thwaites might cause a chain reaction – the result of something called Marine Ice Cliff Instability (MICI), which could result in sea levels rising by up to a metre by the end of the century. At which point the citizens of Miami and New York and Shanghai and Tokyo might start getting nervous.

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MICI is a possibility not a certainty, it should be said. But what does seem clear is that the future of the Thwaites Glacier is in some doubt. It is currently held up by an ice shelf – a floating platform of ice. But scientists have discovered that this ice shelf is cracked. Some have suggested it could collapse within 10 years as a result of warming ocean water.

Et ensuite, le deluge? That’s what we don’t know. Theories range from the collapse of one or two glaciers to full-on glacier Armageddon. In which case, keep a pair of Wellingtons handy.

Of course, it’s probably fair to say that few of us will still be around to find out which if any of these possibilities turns out to be true. But that’s part of the problem for those looking for action on climate change. It seems like we are dealing with theories and what ifs about what might happen decades from now.

And given that we live in a nation that is divided between being proactive or reactive on the Omicrom variant which is currently raging through the population you can see the problem

But the truth is climate change is not a future fear. It is already wreaking havoc. The super typhoon Rai killed hundreds and destroyed thousands of homes in the Philippines before Christmas. If you live in the Third World climate change is not a theory. It’s a killer.

COP 26 in Glasgow last month has been hailed (though not by everyone) as a success because it committed to the target of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees centigrade by the end of the century. But that requires the worst offenders to deliver on huge cuts in emissions.

And even if they do – and independent scientists have calculated that under current plans global warming is more likely to be about 2.4C by the end of the century – 1.5C is still significantly warmer than it is now. It’s at best a mitigation. It’s certainly not a cure.

What does it mean? Well, maybe that by the end of the century the threat to a holiday in Florida may not be the biggest problem we have.

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