Every Beach I Know Will Be Gone

Climate change will turn my island into Swiss cheese

Indi Samarajiva
Oct 17 · 6 min read
The multi-century sea level rise based on temperature rise

Climate change is going to erase every beach I know and turn my island into Swiss cheese. Just watch the animation above. This shows the eventual sea level rise if we raise temperatures up to 4°. It won’t happen all at once, but it will happen unless we change.

The only question is when. The damage we do today is locked in for the future. Emitting greenhouse gases is like taking a block of ice out of the freezer. It won’t melt immediately, but it will melt.

Here are two scenarios, one of which is already lost to us.

Figure 4.2: Projected sea-level rise until 2300. IPCC SR Ocean and Cryosphere, page 4–10

The blue line is sea level if we stopped emissions right now. That would still mean 1° of temperature change and around 0.43 m of sea level rise by 2100. The seas would still keep rising, but it could stay under a meter.

I say the blue line is lost to us because we are still emitting fossil fuels and banks like JPMorgan and companies like Shell are financing an expansion of our doom. There are 33 banks and 100 companies still selling out civilization for short-term profit.

If they aren’t stopped, we take the red path. Which is hot. Here temperatures rise by at least 4° and the sea level rises by about 0.84 meters by 2100. By 2030 the seas will be 2.3–5.4 m higher, and they will keep rising for generations.

This is what’s happening:

The Oceans Are Warming

Sea level rise since 1880. Dr. Richard Selwyn Jones, Durham

This graphic shows global ocean temperatures, with darker being warmer.

The oceans are getting hotter and hotter, changing weather patterns, destroying coral reefs, killing marine life. The ocean has been absorbing 90% and at some point it’s just going to snap, with catastrophic effects.

But fuck fish right?

The Oceans Are Rising

Kevin Pluck — Pixel Movers And Makers

As land animals, the greatest immediate threat to us is rising sea levels, and the accompanying floods and disasters as they ebb and flow. We’ve built most major cities near bodies of water, and they’re all screwed.

As you can see in the GIF above, sea levels have been rising since 1900 at an accelerating rate. First 1.4 mm/year. Then 2 mm in the 1970s, then 3 mm in the 1990s and now about 3.6.

If we continue burning fossil fuels and polluting, this rate will rise to 15 mm per year by 2100. Which is insane. And again, even if we stop then, the changes will be locked in. The fart will already be in the elevator.

The path we’re on will flood every city near water, which is most cities. Not just my island, New York, Shanghai, Mumbai. Maybe Machu Pichu will be the center of civilization again. Everything else might as well be Atlantis.

Polar Ice Is Melting

How this happens is twofold. First, water expands as it heats. Hence the same mass of ocean takes up more space, some of it in my house. Second, ice melts, specifically the ice sheets at the poles. This is the bigger problem, and it can get much bigger fast.

Ice melts slowly and then it starts falling off in chunks, as it already has. Entire sheets of the polar ice sheets are falling into the ocean, tonnes and tonnes at a time. Just as we are constantly setting new maximums for temperature, we are setting new minimums for sea ice.

And My Island Is Screwed

As an island dweller, it is horrifying to see what this will do to my home. Literally every beach I know will be gone, and the inland areas will look like an archipelago. Entire provinces will become islands. Coastlines will completely detach from land.

If you look at the Batti, the entire East Coast just peaces out. The coastline just goes away.

If you go to the South it looks like we left our tourism center in the closet too long and something ate it.

You can look around yourself, look around your hometown.

But you may say so what, this is multi-century climate change. Why not burn fossil fuels to support someone’s pension fund now?

Well, the fact is that disaster will not be evenly distributed. We’ll start seeing catastrophic effects in certain places by… now. This is from a 2007 UNDP study of which my screenshots seem to be all that’s left of the maps. This is the tourist lagoon town of Negombo.

The yellow areas mark inundation levels in 2025, which has already begun, and the other colors mark up to 2100. In the next 5–10 years we’ll already begin to see Negombo going under.

This is Colombo.

Again, by 2025 we should already be feeling the effects. I know that right now the city floods on a dime, and climate change is making our monsoons more extreme.

The End Of The World As We Know It

The fact is that climate change is the end of the world as we know it. We are boiling the ocean slowly but we can already see the bubbles. If we keep pushing it what follows next is chaos. Our civilization will turn to soup. Massive extinctions, violent weather, and seas that will rise for a thousand years.

Forget Venice, basically every major capital will be inundated. People can move — with great suffering — but the civilization we have slowly built, the GDP we have dutifully grown, will be largely underwater.

And it will happen here first. Sri Lanka is the #2 worst impacted country by climate change, and this is how. As an island we will be flooded and eaten away from our coast. Our faithful monsoon will become more violent and less productive. Rising temperatures will cause droughts and death. It’s galling because it’s not our fault. We are the losers of climate change, while the people that caused this pollution will suffer less. Some northern countries may actually benefit.

As island-dwellers, we need your help. And every human needs to help themselves, and their children. We need global political action to completely stop the use of fossil fuels. We have to rethink what growth means if it ultimately destroys civilization. We need a massive Green New Deal which takes a war footing to fight this crisis, completely changing our energy supply and civilization right now, or we just won’t have one.

Otherwise every beach we know will be gone. Our coastlines will be ruins, our cities dive sites. The science is clear. The solutions are known. Now we have to organize and act.

Indi Samarajiva

Written by

Colombo liberal. Writer, father. Founder of YAMU and Kottu.

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