Professors and other staff at Rutgers University and elsewhere reviewed 20 studies from the past six years on climate change and sea level rise. From those, they reported this month, they concluded that sea level in New Jersey could rise 10 feet by the end of this century, 2 feet higher than it could globally.
That would permanently flood about 7 percent of New Jersey’s population and $190 billion worth of property, they said. That makes for an arresting headline, but it is the worst case in a very wide range of predictions and is unlikely to happen.
The review’s headline on the Rutgers website is more frightful — “Global sea level could rise 50 feet by 2300.” Sounds like one of those click-bait ads online.
The review says the 20 studies, in fact, suggest this: “Under moderate emissions, central estimates of global average sea level from different analyses range from 1.4 to 2.8 more feet by 2100.” That is little more than a quarter of the sea level rise in the worst-case forecast.
A far more alarming report was issued this month by the United Nation’s panel on climate change. It said the world has until 2030 to reduce emissions by 40 to 50 percent to prevent irreversible changes that would bring a host of problems — severe coastline flooding, more intense droughts and worsening wildfires, declining fish catches and crop yields, mass migrations of people and the collapse of ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland, accelerating sea level rise.
The panel said global energy systems must be transformed through a massive tax on carbon. Its median estimate of the tax needed to be effective would increase gasoline prices by $25 a gallon.
Well, that can’t and therefore won’t happen. But don’t assume we’re all doomed.
For one thing, the report just reinterprets the same model for the effect of emissions on climate that has been in use for years. The last full report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2014 actually gave an improved best-case forecast, and it is working on the next report, expected in 2022. That should show significant improvements in climate data and modeling.
For another, although the current report urged energy transformations that would cost trillions of dollars, it also referenced a far less costly mitigation plan: The predicted warming could be stopped by injecting reflective particles into the atmosphere, at a cost of $1 billion to $10 billion annually.
Hmmm, shall we spend billions or trillions?
The Earth is indeed warming, some significant portion of that warming is caused by people, and warming will have consequences that must be understood, prevented or mitigated where possible and adapted to where not.
Worst-case forecasts are alarming and might be good for getting people to just do something. But what is needed is for leaders, the public and scientists to carefully choose and execute the most cost-effective combination of ways to address climate change.
Scientists and their reports could help ensure that happens by keeping the focus on their best estimates of what is most likely in warming and sea-level rise.
More emotion doesn’t lead to better reasoning.