Peter D. Ward is a professor of biology and earth and space sciences at the University of Washington and the author of The Flooded Earth: Our Future in a World Without Ice Caps.
From his Q & A with the Barnes & Noble Review:
Why is the rise in sea level really such a huge deal?--Marshal Zeringue
There are three big reasons. There are the economics, because sea level rise is going to cost us a whole lot of money. And then there's food, because sea level rise is going to wipe out an unbelievably high percentage of the agricultural areas that we're extremely dependent upon, deltas in particular -- they are, by definition, at sea level and they produce the majority of the rice on the planet.
And then the third thing is people. A 3-foot sea level rise will cause a large part of Bangladesh, for example, to either disappear or be unfarmable, so you're displacing millions of people physically. This becomes way worse when you couple it with the food part of the equation. The number of people on the planet is expected to be 9 billion by 2050 and steadying out at 9.5 or 10 billion by 2100, so you've got one-third more people and maybe 20 percent less food. You do the numbers.
What are the high and low estimates for sea rise by the end of the century?
The most extreme (that you can put real scientific confidence in) is 5 feet by 2100. The most conservative at this stage is slightly less than 1 meter, or about 2.8, 2.9 feet. The best, most levelheaded predictions and models comes from Stefan Ramsdorf, just outside of Berlin in Potsdam. He's now saying at least 3 feet by 2100, with 5 feet not out of the realm of possibility.
But we have these 2100 scenarios and all the [city planners] stop then. Nobody goes to 2150 or 2200 because the secret is that once you hit the 2100 value, it continues to accelerate. So if we have a 3-foot rise by 2100, we're not just going to have 6 feet by 2200, we're going to have...[read on]