Rising Sea Levels: The Silent Killer*

Climate change and its effects pose the most immediate and pertinent danger to our nation. I believe that this is the defining issue of our time.

Adam Reid '18

Climate change and its effects pose the most immediate and pertinent danger to our nation. I believe that this is the defining issue of our time. Its effects are undeniable and the carnage that it will cause is unprecedented. To attempt to reverse what will happen is almost certainly impossible. However, due to the scale and severity of the events that will unfold, the Pentagon needs to mobilize resources. It is the role of the Pentagon to assess national security threats, and I believe there is no greater impending crisis then the one that our nation will face due to the effects of climate change.

In the minds of many citizens in the United States, terrorism — foreign and domestic— stands alone as the single largest threat to our well-being. Exorbitant amounts of funding have been put forward to try and completely eliminate the threat of terrorism. For fiscal year 2017 “Congress a proposed budget request of $582.7 billion in discretionary budget authority to fund the Department of Defense” (Press Operations). However, while our government has been attempting to tackle this problem, there has been an exponentially greater danger lurking in the shadows. This danger comes from rising sea levels which are a direct result of climate change. Even though the danger is quantifiably larger, in fact over 4,500 times larger, neither the public or our government sees it as a significant of a threat. This is clearly shown when only “$8.267 billion in discretionary funding for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency” is deemed as enough (EPA). A possible reason why there is such a difference in funding is that the general public is not afraid of rising sea levels. This is the opposite with terrorism, we can say with certainty what the public is afraid of. “According to the number of death certificates issued by the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office, the WTC attacks killed 2,749 nonterrorists, including nonterrorist occupants of the hijacked aircraft” (Kean et. al.).

That event shook the nation in a way that thankfully has never been rivaled. However, that is only part of the picture, since the attacks on September 11th “Attacks by white supremacists and people motivated by racial and religious hatred and anti-government views have killed 48 people, while attacks by individuals linked to or inspired by foreign terrorist groups have claimed 26 lives” (Nakashima, Ellen). In total, the death toll adds up to 2,823 people. By no means am I attempting to label that loss of life insignificant, but that number needs to be put into perspective. There are more destructive forces that have not been addressed properly because the public does not fear them. It has been reported that “As many as 13.1 million people in the United States will be in the path of flooding by 2100” (Lavelle, Marianne). Statistically speaking 2,823 is %0.021 when compared to 13.1 million. Yet we are currently sitting idly by not even trying to solve the problem of what we are going to do with 13.1 million American climate refugees.

The explanation for the rising sea levels comes from the global rise in temperature, specifically in regions that have a massive amounts of ice. This rise in temperature has been extremely prevalent in Greenland where “air temperature…has increased by about seven degrees Fahrenheit since 1991” (Greenland's Ice Is Melting Faster). The air temperature increase has resulted in “The rate of ice melt in the western part of Greenland [speeding] up by about 30% since 1979.” (Greenland's Ice Is Melting Faster). In addition to what is happening in Greenland, Antarctica is another area that is seeing melt rates increase. Scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have “found that the ice is melting faster than they've ever seen. The researchers believe the cause is warm water circulating beneath the ice shelf” (Joyce, Christopher). The combined output of all the melting ice from both Greenland and Antarctica is the primary cause for the rise in sea levels. It is also important to note that these rates will only continue to get larger due to the fact that humans are using greater amounts of fossil fuels. So the 13.1 million that will be displaced in the United States by 2100 will only be part of the first wave of climate refugees. These people will be forced to evacuate their homes and leave regions and family behind in search of new places to live. The process of relocation has already started for residents in Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana. “We’re going to lose all our heritage, all our culture,” laments Chief Albert Naquin of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw”. His tribe has inhabited Isle de Jean Charles for generations (Robertson, Coral Davenport and Campbell). Now Mr. Albert Naquin and his people have to face the fact that in the coming years all of their history will be underwater. However upon recognizing this our government has given them a $48 million grant to move to a new community which at this point does not exist.

Moving entire communities, though, is exactly where I foresee our nation having some of the toughest problems. There will need to be a plan to help facilitate the mass migration of climate refugees. Our government will need to find all the necessary funding and land to construct entirely new infrastructure systems that will be able to properly accommodate all those who will be evacuated. In the case of the Biloxi-Chihimacha-Choctaw three previous attempts to move 60 people have all “failed after they became mired in logistical and political complications” (Robertson, Coral Davenport and Campbell). In addition, the only option for most climate refugees is to move inland, to locations where there have been “more intense and frequent heat waves, less frequent and intense cold waves, and regional changes in floods, droughts, and wildfires” (EPA). When these citizens are forced to move inland, they are going to be potentially put in even more danger than they were in before. At no point should anyone living inside of our borders be forcefully put into an environment that could cost them their life.

For all these reasons, solving the problem that the United States will face as a result of rising sea levels is not even remotely as simple as it may seem. Therefore it is the job of the Pentagon to use its vast resources to begin formulating a solution. It does not matter where the climate refugees come from. This is because they are citizens of the United States of America and our nation guarantees them domestic tranquility. These people did not know what was going to happen when they choose to settle on this country’s coasts. Millions of people will be forced to transplant their lives to new communities that at the moment our government has not even thought about building. We have to act now, we need to unite together and begin the process of planning what to do with 13.1 million Americans.

 *This essay was written as a call to action paper for the Environmental Civics class.


More from PrepTalk