A tidal flood, or a “King Wave,” nearly covers the the island of Takuu, a low lying coral atoll near Bougainville. The residents’ homes are destroyed, their belongings left in a soggy pile by a tide that rose above the island, the highest point of which is hardly more than a single meter. There Once was An Island follows three characters who try to decide whether to leave their home on Takuu and move to Bougainville, or stay and fight the effects of salt water inundation and rising sea levels.
The devastation of Takuu is just one of the effects of global warming that can be seen today. The increase in world temperatures is creating many different problems, but one of the easiest to observe through time is the rise in sea level caused by the melting of glaciers and land ice. In her book, Field Notes from a Catastrophe, Elizabeth Kolbert mentions that the melting of the Greenland Ice sheet alone would result in a 23 foot rise in the sea level ,which would result in the loss of many major coastal cities. If this happened states such as Florida would find large portions of land covered by water, and the island of Takuu would be fully submerged. In the image below, the red shows the portions of Florida land that would be covered with a six-meter rise in sea level (about 20 feet).
Large populations of people live in these coastal regions. If their homes are no longer inhabitable they must be placed elsewhere, the burden and expense falling onto government. According to Kolbert, the rising sea level is not the only problem caused by the melting of the ice sheets. There is also a decrease in the albedo of the arctic. Field Notes from a Catastrophe explains that albedo is the reflective quality of ice that helps to prevent the earth from absorbing too much heat from the sun. As the ice melts due to increased temperatures on earth it helps to speed up its own melting process. That is, as albedo is lost the more heat is absorbed, and the faster the ice is able to melt. James Balog, known most prominently for founding The Extreme Ice Survey, has photographed the recession of different glaciers. In his film Chasing Ice, Balog further documents the melting ice across the globe.
These rivers of water only further help to melt the ice by finding the smallest holes in the ice to flow through, creating larger holes that only serve to quicken the melt. Rising temperatures bring spring sooner and winter later. The ocean system has a cycle that makes sure warmer seasonal temperatures do not negatively affect the freezing of sea ice during the fall and winter at high latitudes. But if ice melts earlier and freezes later these problems continue to worsen.
Smaller pieces of glaciers melt more easily due to size and ultimately aid in the faster melting of the ice sheet in all. These problems can no longer be ignored. At the warmest temperatures the modern world has ever seen, the world is seeing rises in sea level that some had never imagined. The Greenland ice sheet, one of the larger stores of perennial ice, or ice that exists year round, is in danger of melting with the potential to affect millions. Understanding the effects of greenhouse gas emissions and our individual effect is undeniably important.
Can the individual help? How can we change our behavior? The United States seems to have an increasing interest in melting ice and increasing sea levels. With the efforts of James Balog and other environmental activists we might be able to inform the masses on the effects that individuals or communities might have. Because the United States has such a wide variety of allies and contacts we can hope to educate the world, especially the Millennials Generation, on the real difference that can be made. While this is a problem that will take time to solve, reverse or even know all about, it is worth it to invest our time and energy into it now.
In the following months I will try to analyze the media coverage of melting ice sheets specifically from American media. I will cover topics such as agenda-setting, framing, and consumer culture. Understanding the way that media covers topics such as climate change is important because it allows us to understand biases and focuses. Journalists such as Elizabeth Kolbert seek to illuminate all of the facts, while others try to tie climate change to their political agenda. By thinking critically about media coverage we can be more effective advocates for the environment.