As East Coast residents board up their windows and sandbag their property in preparation for Hurricane Irma this weekend, the impact of rising sea levels may well be on their minds. Irma's wallop, which packed sustained winds close to 200 mph for some 24 hours in the Caribbean is worry enough for homeowners overlooking Florida and South Carolina's spectacular beach fronts.
But steadily rising sea levels, which scientists widely attribute to global warming, will make Irma's potential impact all the more concerning for areas like the Florida Keys and Miami, where the hurricane could "buzz-saw" its way up the coast. On Thursday Florida Governor Rick Scott acknowledged that storm surges from Hurricane Irma, bolstered by already high sea levels "could cover your house."
"The question of responsibility for climate change is central to public and policy discourse over actions to curb greenhouse gas emissions and limit adverse impacts," say the authors They point out the the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) recognizes the concept of "common but differentiated responsibilities," which, in essence, acknowledges that those countries that have contributed a larger share of carbon emissions bear a larger responsibility for finding ways to prevent "dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate."
The study, which was supported by the Union of Concerned Scientists, investigates the link between the world's largest carbon producers and specific environmental impacts, like sea level rise and atmospheric temperature changes. Most importantly, says the UCS, it quantifies those changes, allowing scientists to show that there is a direct correlation between, say, summer flooding in South Miami and the continued investments into carbon-based manufacturing industries.
For example, say the researchers:
The study points out that companies and countries have known for years that carbon-based emissions linked to fossil fuel industries cause global warming and related impacts on glaciers and sea levels. The lawsuit launched by Kivalina, Alaska against ExxonMobil and other petroleum and utility companies in 2008 failed to force the courts to recognize the company's cumulative responsibilities. The U.S. District Court dismissed the suit in 2009, saying that global warming was a political matter. Both the Ninth Circuit of Appeals and the Supreme Court declined to advance the case.
But newer challenges against fossil fuel companies may find weight in the UCS-backed study. The 2017 lawsuit by the City of Imperial Beach and Marin and San Mateo Counties strive to do what Kivalina wasn't allowed to do in court: hold fossil fuel companies responsible. And this study, which delves in to the issue of just what percentage of responsibility a company (and an industry) has when it comes to the destruction leveraged by climate change, may be just the data that litigants will need in court.
Still, there are those who will likely argue that the data is partisan-driven. In an age where climate change and global warming still receive spirited debate as politically hot topic, it may take a few more studies (and regrettably, a few more hurricanes like Harvey and Irma) before nations -- and the courts -- will be willing to recognize the compelling message of today's climate research.
Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.