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An Update On The Debate About Sea Level Rise

Larry Kummer, Fabius Maximus

Rising sea levels have become a core element — perhaps the core — of climate activists’ warnings. What do scientists say? Should we worry, panic, or despair? Here is a brief answer, plus much supporting evidence.

Greenpeace artwork about sea levels
An example of Greenpeace informing the public.

As so many of the predicted effects of climate change have failed to appear on time (e.g., the end of wintermore and stronger hurricanes), rising sea levels have become the focus of climate activists. It creates easy (if unscientific, even daft) graphics of global flooding — hopefully panicking insurance companies and landowners. Unfortunately, as so often the case, the science has not supported their screams of “Wolf!”

Now a new cycle begins, with the first salvo being Jeff Tollefson’s “Satellite snafu masked true sea-level rise for decades” in Nature, 17 July 2017 — “Revised tallies confirm that the rate of sea-level rise is accelerating as the Earth warms and ice sheets thaw.” A mild tone, as such articles go. The mainstream news stories to follow, fed by activists, probably will be lurid — or even hysterical. People will be running for the hills if they take them seriously (but they don’t; even believers see them as entertainment).

Spoiler – Conclusions

Below you will find six charts and 2750 words from major institutional science websites plus eight works of cutting edge research. It describes the scientific basis for the terrifying news stories you have seen and will continue to see in the major news media. I’ll save you some time. Here are the four conclusions relevant to the public policy debate about climate change.

(a)  The seas are slowly rising and will continue to do so. Europe is preparing many of its coastal cities for this. America is not. Unless we wake up, the results will not be pretty. Slow and stupid are the sins “Nature’s god” always punishes.

(b)  There are some tentative signs that the rate of increase is already accelerating, rather than just fluctuating. But the data is noisy (lots of natural variation) and the (tentative) acceleration is small — near the resolving power of these systems (hence the significance of the frequent revisions).

(c)  Graph E in paper (5) is the key. As the world continues to warm, the rate of sea level rise will accelerate (probably slowly). Understanding the four scenarios used in the IPCC’s AR5 is an essential first step to making sense of the stories in the news about rising seas (discussed below).

(d)  Bottom line: activists are attempting to incite hysteria by exaggerating and misrepresenting what science tells us about rising sea levels.

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