To the right is a graphic that appeared in the Guardian last weekend, to illustrate a story about flood risk and global warming:
The larger map is pretty familiar: it sets out the flood risk that would arise from a two-metre rise in sea levels (at the upper end of projections for this century).
The smaller map, which seems to have inundated most of eastern England, is less familiar. Reading the small print, it becomes clear that this is a map of a truly cataclysmic scenario. The complete melting of the polar ice caps would release a staggering 33 million square kilometres of water into the sea, and this could result in a sea level rise in the order of 84 metres. So it\’s farewell to Norfolk.
But the qualifications pile up. This outcome is \”very unlikely – and probably only possible many thousands of years into the future.\” So, like global pandemics, asteroid collisions and exploding supernova stars, this type of sea level rise is not really something we can do a great deal about now.
You have to ask why The Guardian chose to print this map. Following the failure of the talks in Copenhagen, it is very tempting – even for those of us who broadly accept the scientific consensus – to stick our heads in the ever-warming sands, declare that the problem is too monstrous to tackle, and enjoy the sunshine.
A debate in the Observer today quotes a former chair of the IPCC as saying, \”Unless we announce distasters no one will listen.\” But conjuring cataclysms like this doesn\’t help; in fact, it plays into the hand of those who argue that the threat is exaggerated, or a trojan horse for a green re-engineering of society.