Assess the Likely Impact of Global Warming on Coastal Environments

By George Montagu Brown

 Global warming is the most talked about environmental issue facing our planet today. The potentially catastrophic impacts deriving from it have most people terrified. And rightly so, rising sea levels and a significant percentage of the Earths land mass disappearing is no joke. In this essay I’m going to explore the theory of global warming and what impacts it’s likely to have on coastal environments. The most familiar product of Global warming is rising sea levels and this is also that one that will have the greatest effect on coastal environments and so it is the aspect that I’ll be studying.

 Global warming is the phenomenon by which the Earth is heating up. The Earth cools and heats up naturally over long periods of time but it is the accelerated speed at which it’s occurring that’s causing so much concern. Pollution is to blame, the product of consumer lifestyles and heavy industry over the past century, which occurred with little thought given to the environment. It is coastal environments that will feel the biggest effects of Global warming, but how much individual coastlines are affected by rising sea levels will vary from place to place.

The key determining factor will be the height of the coastline. Beaches for instance, around the world would be instantly destroyed while if the coastline is made up of tall cliffs, the change wouldn’t be as noticeable. Unfortunately, it isn’t as simple as that though because in many areas, the UK included, much of the land is also below sea level, not just the coast. The Netherlands is an example of this; in fact over 27% of its land is below sea level. This also ties back to my previous point but in a different way by saying that the effects of rising sea levels will vary according to the wealth of a country. In the Netherlands they’ve managed to control the sea using a mixture of hard and soft engineering, they choose to protect it because they can afford to do so and it’s worth protecting the country because of its valuable economic activities.

 On the other hand, an LEDC like Bangladesh will suffer greatly at the hands of rising sea levels, more so than it already does. Bangladesh has the unfortunate location of being pretty much a huge floodplain, which means flooding is rife throughout this low lying nation. The problem is then exacerbated further by much of the country not having early warning systems, with no common medium of communication by which to get the message out. Bangladesh is also one of the poorest countries in the world which means a large percentage of the population are subsistence farmers and so their livelihood (crops) is easily destroyed. Permanent rising sea levels would truly spell disaster for the country though as its citizens would have quite literally nowhere to go. Their neighbour to the west, India won’t in all likelihood let any environmental refugees into their country due to long running cultural disputes between them.

 Bangladesh isn’t the only place where mass evacuation would be necessary though. On a similar scale pretty much the whole of the Maldives and a large percentage of Indonesia would flood. The Maldives is made up of a chain of thousands of small islands that are just a few meters above sea level. Up until now these islands have been preserved because of the reefs surrounding them, which shelter them from the onslaught of the open sea. Unfortunately, the reefs won’t protect against a permanent rise in sea levels (in fact the reef will also die itself). The poor subsistence farmers that inhabit these lands are unlikely to have any valuable skills and be a real drain on any country that accepts them, and so few are likely to.

Overall, the impacts of rising sea levels are sure to be catastrophic and cause a massive change to the World’s landscape as a whole. However, the impacts will vary from place to place. They will be particularly bad in low lying LEDC’s for example, such as Bangladesh, where the National Government simply can’t afford to protect its people and even if they could, there’s not a great deal they could do anyway: Unfortunately, rising sea levels seem to be pretty much inevitable.

By George Montagu Brown





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