About 71% of the Earth’s surface is blanketed in rivers, lakes, ponds, streams, and oceans—water. Of all the water on our “pale blue dot,” about 96.5% exists in our vast and salty oceans. As global temperatures rise and climate change marches on, the seashore creeps slowly inland and water’s share of the planet’s surface steadily grows.
Thankfully, we are far from the post-climate change future depicted in the 1995 film Waterworld, a future in which the polar ice cap has returned to the sea and water covers just about the entire planet. A global climate tragedy on that scale will not be seen in our lifetimes, but it’s a cautionary tale we would be wise not to ignore. While exaggerated, that fictional world’s biblical water woes are rooted in climate challenges we face today. The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, now over, contained 30 named storms, more than any previous season in recorded history. 12 storms made landfall in the continental United States; an average season has only 12 named storms.
The world’s governments have in large part begun to address global warming, though with varied effectiveness. The Paris Agreement, a United Nations initiative to combat climate change, was signed by 196 nations on December 12, 2015. Sadly, President Donald Trump withdrew the USA a couple of years later, but President-elect Joe Biden has promised that the country will recommit once he takes office.
Rhetoric around reducing climate change often focuses on individual responsibility—but it is now somewhat common knowledge that individual contribution, even considering large groups of individuals, is but a drop in the bucket compared to the damage done by global corporations. On a nation-to-nation basis, there is a similar contribution imbalance. In 2014, China was the single biggest contributor, with about 30% of global CO2 emissions. The USA followed with 15%, the European Union with 9%, and India with 7%. As for individual versus corporate contribution, regardless of nation, 100 energy companies have been responsible for 71% of all industrial emissions since the world began to address climate change.
All that to say: it is a handful powerful nations and powerful actors within those nations who must answer for all the tragedy existent under the umbrella of climate change, but it is the less fortunate (often within those same nations) who end up footing the bill with their land, their health, and ultimately their lives. As of 2018, Japan (by no coincidence an island nation) was the country most threatened by climate change. The Philippines, a nation of 7,460 islands, was in second place. In 2018, Typhoon Mangkhut affected more than 250,000 people there.
Looking at how sea level rise specifically will affect future populations, the numbers are yet more tragic. No place on Earth will be hit harder than coastal Asia, and China, the nation that contributes most to climate change, will be hit the hardest. In 2050, land that 93 million people currently call home could be lower than the local average annual coastal flood level there. In China, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand combined, 151 million people now live on land that might be permanently underwater—not just threatened by flooding—in the year 2100.
This is a global problem, from coastal Asia, to the low-lying Netherlands, to the coastline of Nigeria. In the United States, Louisiana, the state perhaps most associated with sea level rise ever since the catastrophic 2005 Hurricane Katrina, contains about 40% of the nation’s continental wetlands but accounts for over 90% of total coastal marsh loss in the same area. The saltwater Gulf of Mexico creeps ever inland, thanks to increased hurricanes, human attempts to transform the land, general sea rise, and even the proliferation of the non-native nutria, a large semi-aquatic rodent that feeds insatiably on the vegetation that anchors these fragile wetlands.
It’s somewhat overwhelming—a global problem caused mostly by those with the most power to slow and reverse damage, who seem largely not to care. What can be done to stem the tide and help people living on at-risk land, people with everything to lose? In Louisiana, there is a $6 bounty per nutria hunted. In Indonesia, individuals and organizations are working to restore mangrove ecosystems. These beautiful estuarine trees are vital to the tropical and subtropical coastal regions where they grow—from Florida to Argentina, India to Thailand, Nigeria to Tanzania, mangroves act as barriers against floods, provide habitat for wildlife, and hold carbon that would otherwise corrupt the atmosphere. There are at least as many groups working to protect these precious and unique forests as there are countries where they grow—it’s easy for concerned parties to get involved, even just through contributing funds.
Beyond strengthening mangrove forests, there are many other projects underway in preparation for sea level rise. Towns and cities that have long experienced flooding often have old stormwater pumps in need of renovation. Sewage systems in flood-prone areas can get backed up when the waters rise, corrupting potable water and smothering streets—this is a major health hazard. Communities need money to build flood walls, a temporary solution. Similar to mangrove forests, oyster reefs and healthy marsh ecosystems can be created or fostered to protect coastlines. As saltwater turns otherwise fresh water undrinkable, filtration systems or alternative water supplies become very important. Many communities across the globe, coastal or otherwise, have long lived with water insecurity.
We depend on water to live. There is much to be done to ensure that every single human has both water aplenty to drink and a home safe from the rising seas. Together, we can accomplish both of these goals.
Through ShareYourself, many of our project creators have made great strides towards mitigating the negative effects of climate change. Project Replast aims to reduce the amount of harmful plastic waste in Lagos, Nigeria; Ubizolwethy Water initiative aims to clean up trash from rivers, coastal areas, and vital water resources within towns and cities.
If you want to support these projects or feel inspired to create your own, please create an account with us today!