Global Warming: What If We've Already Passed the Point Of No Return?

A study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this Monday revealed that the future effects of global warming are much closer and much more disastrous than many had predicted. Over 1,700 American urban areas are under a serious threat from global warming’s resulting rising sea levels. Some of the major cities that are currently predicted to eventually be covered in the tides include New York, Boston, and Miami. The study makes use of the term “locked in” in order to describe the point of no return. In other words, the various dates that are given signify the point when flooding of those areas can no longer be controlled by trying to stop or slow down global warming. The point of no return is different for every city but by 2100, all of them would eventually be covered by the rising sea levels.

So what does this mean for the U.S. government? With global warming’s effects clearly not taken seriously by politicians (they aren’t running for re-election in 2090), the public needs to demand the government take steps now to guard these coastal cities. It is unlikely that there will be a worldwide ban on greenhouse gases, and so global warming will almost certainly cause these terrible disasters to take place to some degree. The best solution, then, is to have the government create a widespread contingency plan in the form of investment in sea walls, technologically advanced levees, and hurricane and floodproof construction.

The move towards a "point of no return" has led some to believe that this point has already been passed. In 2008, for example, James Hansen of NASA announced that the tipping point in the Arctic Ocean’s summer ice covering had already passed, meaning the Arctic ice was melting at the rate where it would inevitably disappear completely. Tony Barnosky, professor at the University of California, Berkeley, in a now famous quote about climate change, further explained the idea of the tipping point: “You’re pushing an egg toward the end of the table... [at first] not much happens. Then it goes off the edge and it breaks. That egg is now in a fundamentally different state, you can’t get it back to what it was.” With the climate rapidly changing, an entire state shift means that is difficult, if not impossible, to reverse the effects post-shift. So instead of focusing on slowing down the pace at which the environmental punch finally lands, our best option is to put on some armor. With hundreds of major cities at risk from the flooding, the U.S. government needs to start preparing now. New Orleans needs better technologically advanced levees. New York needs new sea walls built for 2100 sea levels, and Miami needs to reimagine itself as a miniature Netherlands. We need solutions now, so that 50 or 100 years from now, we are not scrambling to put together the necessary resources to make this happen.