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The Past, Present, and Future of Rising Sea Levels

by Brian Fagan

Pub Date: June 6th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-60819-692-0
Publisher: Bloomsbury

Fagan (Emeritus, Anthropology; Univ. of California, Santa Barbara; Beyond the Blue Horizon: How the Earliest Mariners Unlocked the Secrets of the Oceans, 2012, etc.) provides his assessment of rising sea levels.

The author believes that man has about 50 years to change his ways and either adopt a long-term commitment to investing in the engineering skills and projects that can provide protection against the rise of the seas or relocate tens of millions of threatened people to higher ground. Fagan reviews both the long-term effect of very small annual rises and the more immediately disastrous results of tsunamis, hurricanes and typhoons. He shows how, at the end of the last Ice Age, when water levels were more than 400 feet below where they are now, a gradual rise accompanied the warming trend over more than 4,000 years. These effects, as well as his imaginative reconstructions of their consequences on the human communities of the time—e.g., Doggerland in the English Channel—provide a standpoint from which to consider the warming trend and ocean rise that began to set in again since the Industrial Revolution. Fagan draws on evidence from geology, archaeology and anthropology to support his case. The Netherlands, with their historical record of land reclamation and fortification against the seas, provides an example of the longer-term policy shift and commitment that needs to be made globally. These are multigenerational commitments that require continual upgrading, maintenance and the practical understanding that long-term physical processes are under way that won't be reversed by adopting carbon taxes and lowering fuel consumption—measures that are necessary but insufficient.

The author’s vision and knowledge substantiate his clearly expressed concerns.