Mitigating the Damage

Figuring out how to mitigate or prevent the effects of sea-level rise is very difficult to do. As stated earlier, no one is sure by how much sea levels will rise. As discussed above, Bangladesh will experience major problems if the sea rises by only 1.5 feet (45cm) The devastating dislocations and property damage predicted in California, however, are based on a rise of 4 feet (1.5m) or more. To make things even more complicated, different locations will undoubtedly experience different levels of rise depending on local factors, such as rising or falling land. Christopher Essex and Ross McKitrick note that "A 15cm [about 6 inches] change [in sea levels] would require a relatively small investment in dikes and drainage machinery, while a 50cm [about 1.6 feet] change would be much costlier. . . ."45 On the other hand, the 3-foot (1m) rise suggested by some scientists to occur within a century would require an even more expensive response.

Whatever the actual rise may be, there are some concrete steps that can be taken to reduce the damage from rising sea levels. The U.S. government report Coastal Sensitivity to Sea-Level Rise suggests preserving wetlands, building infrastructure where feasible, and adjusting insurance rates in floodplains to reflect increased risks. The report notes "Responding to sea-level rise requires careful consideration regarding whether and how particular areas will be protected with structures, elevated above the tides, relocated landward, or left alone and potentially given up to the rising sea."46 Replenishing sand on eroding beaches or trying to hold back the sea can keep communities in place, but doing so is expensive. Allowing the sea to swallow land and communities is not an attractive possibility either, however.

In some cases, there seem to be no good options. For example, if seas do rise high enough to threaten Lagos, Nigeria, the capital might have to be abandoned. To move so many people, however, and abandon the nation's economic and political heart would be an "unthinkable option," according to George Awudi, the Ghana programme coordinator for the environmental lobby group Friends of the Earth.47 Instead, Awudi argues that the best way to combat sea-level rise is for wealthy nations such as the United States to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, even if emissions could be reduced immediately, many scientists believe that the sea level would continue to rise for up to a century. High-end predictions of sea-level rise may well be inaccurate; if they are true, however, it may be too late to avert at least some dire consequences.

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