Sunday, July 21, 2019

Can Singapore and rest of South-east Asia rise to the challenge of surging seas?

If all the ice in Greenland melts, it would raise sea levels by 7m.
Antarctica has enough water to raise sea levels by 65m.
By Benjamin Horton

18 July, 2019

The Government announced in March that it will start a National Sea Level Programmethis year to bring together research expertise and better understand how rising sea levels will impact Singapore.

On Wednesday (July 17), Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said that the Government will set aside S$10 million in funding for the programme over the next five years and set up a new office to strengthen Singapore’s capabilities in climate science.

Why are sea levels rising and how will it affect the region and Singapore? And what can we do about it?

While all coastal cities will be affected by rising sea levels, Asian cities will be hit much harder than others given their population, economic activity and landmass.

Furthermore, many of the processes that control sea-level rise are amplified in Asia. As a result, about four out of every five people impacted by sea-level rise by 2050 will live in East or South-east Asia.


Sea-level rise is one of the more certain impacts of human-induced global warming. The world is getting warmer because of the release of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere.

[The seas will rise. The question is how much and when.]

The last five years are the warmest ever, according to the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration which has been tracking global heat for 139 years. The Earth's average global temperature has risen by 1 degrees Celsius since the 1880s.

If you think this is not a lot, then you are wrong. Twenty thousand years ago, the ice was up to three kilometres thick in North America. The average global temperature had only to change 5 degrees Celsius to eliminate all of this ice and raise sea levels by 120 metres.

That change in temperature took 10,000 years, eliminating almost all the glacial ice mass between the Arctic and Antarctic Circles, creating the conditions where human culture, civilization, and economy could thrive.

Earlier this month, the Centre for Climate Research Singapore predicated that the nation could also face days of 40 degrees Celsius as early as in 2045. This was followed by a warning from a group of climate scientists from Crowther Lab that Singapore is among cities that will face “unprecedented” climate shifts by 2050.

Global warming affects sea level in two ways. About a third of the rise in sea levels since the beginning of the 20th century comes from thermal expansion — from the fact that water grows in volume as it warms. The rest comes from the melting of ice on land.

So far the melting of ice has been mostly mountain glaciers, but the big concern for the future is the giant ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. If all the ice in Greenland melts, it would raise sea levels by 7m.

Antarctica has enough water to raise sea levels by 65m. You only need to melt a few per cent of the Antarctic ice sheet to cause devastating impact.

Satellite-based measurements of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets show that the melting is accelerating.

For example, Greenland's glaciers went from dumping only about 51 billion tons of ice into the ocean between 1980 and 1990, to losing 286 billion tons between 2010 and 2018. The result is that out of nearly 14 millimetres of sea-level rise caused by Greenland since 1972, half of it had occurred in just the last eight years.

Since at least the start of the 20th century, the average global sea level has been rising. Between 1900 and 2016, the sea level rose by 16 to 21 centimetres.

But the amount of sea-level rise will vary from place to place. Regional sea-level trends include land subsidence or uplift due to geological processes, the influence of ocean currents and gravity.

At a local scale the amount of groundwater withdrawal and tidal range variation may be important. The sum of global, regional and local trends leads to certain areas of the Earth having far greater rates of sea-level rise. One of these hotspots is Singapore.

Future sea-level rise will generate hazards for coastal populations, economies and infrastructure of South-east Asia with over 450 million people living in low-elevation coastal zones. Twelve nations have more than 10 million people living on land at risk from sea-level rise, including China, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia and Japan.

This graph on projected sea levels is combined from a variety of datasets compiled by the author. The low-emission projection is one where commitments to the Paris climate agreement are met, whereas the high-emission projection is based on a business-as-usual scenario.


We need to identify the potential solutions that could reduce flood risk from sea-level rise in ways that support the long‐term resilience and sustainability of communities and the environment, and that reduce the economic costs and risks associated with flood damage.

There are three options.

First, we can defend against floods with infrastructure that keeps tidal waters at bay, such as bulkheads, pumps, and mangrove restorations.

Second, we can also elevate existing houses and build new ones on stilts. Changi Airport, for example, is building Terminal 5 at 5.5m above sea level to protect against rising seas.

We can further think about engineering advances that will enable Singapore buildings to "float".These buildings could be semi-submersible, with foundations on the sea bed, like oil rigs, or floating structures that are kept stable by mooring systems, which are already used for homes in Ijburg, Amsterdam.

Third, those living in cities that could be severely affected by rising seas could relocate altogether. Indeed, we cannot rule out the possibility of such mass migrations in the decades ahead.

Ultimately, the best way to mitigate rising sea levels is to slow down climate change by implementing the commitments laid out in the Paris Agreement.

If every country meets its commitment, the Earth will [still] warm about 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century compared with its pre-industrial average.

[The message of the IPCC or the scientists, or the media is overly optimistic. Or has been interpreted optimistically. This is what the IPCC wrote: 
"Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050. This means that any remaining emissions would need to be balanced by removing CO2 from the air."
NET carbon dioxide emissions MUST FALL by 45% by 2030. Cut our emissions by almost half in 10 years?

Wishful thinking.

The problem is described by Thomas Friedman in his book, "Hot, Flat, and Crowded":
About 1 billion people in the world are the "Golden Billion" these are people who live like Americans. They have an American standard of living, and they use and consume resources like an American. (An American on average consumes 32 times as much resources as say, an average Kenyan.) And in a flat world, everyone can see how this Golden Billion live... and want to be like them!

The problem is that behind this Golden Billion are 2 billion people aspiring to have an American lifestyle (think China and India if you need a way to grasp this idea.) The world cannot support 3 Golden Billion. It can't even support 1! Not in the current manner, anyway.
And that's not even the end, because behind that 2 billion aspiring people are another 3 billion hoping to get out of their poverty and improve their lives. And that's just today. In another 12 years, another billion will be added to the world and they will want that American Lifestyle too. 
...What's the problem? Well, if each of the 1 billion new people that are coming in the next 12 years were to be given a single 60-watt incandescent light bulb when he or she arrives... when they turn on all the light bulbs at the same time, they will need 60,000 megawatts of electricity! Fortunately, they will only turn them on about 4 hours a night, so at any time, the power needed would 10,000 megawatts. That is still about twenty 500-megawatt power generating stations just so the new billion can have light! 
Comment: Of course, a 60-watt incandescent bulb is rather outdated. Fluorescent is more efficient, but add the need to access internet, refrigerators, hot water, and consider a 60-watt X 4 hours a day or 240 watt per day requirement to be the bare minimum, and the problem can be seen to be a significant one.
It is pointless for 5.6 million Singapore residents cutting our emissions by half when almost a billion rising out of poverty wants electricity for their internet, refrigerators, air-conditioning, heating, hot showers, and personal vehicles.

Look at the list of countries and their per capita carbon emissions

Saudi Arabia, North America, Australia, South Korea and Russia all produces more than 10 tonnes of CO2 per person per year (2015 figures). 

Singapore is not one of the big emitter on a per capita basis. One estimate is 8 tonnes per capita.

Which while not in the class of the Big Boys (North America, Australia, etc), is still higher than China (6.6) and way higher than India (1.6). We are in the same class as Japan and Germany.

Except, another source puts our per capita emissions at 10.31 tonnes in 2014.

The point is, we need the Big Boys club to really cut their emissions, and for the rising 3 billion (China, India and maybe Indonesia?) to NOT want modern conveniences.

Take cars.

The US has 260 million cars for the 330 million people. Or about 900 cars for about 1000 people. China is catching up.

In 1990, there were less than 6 million vehicles. This grew to 16 million in 2000, 90 million in 2010, and now 300 million.
There are 1.3 billion people in China. Even if they keep to just 500 cars per 1000 people, we would still see 650 million cars. Or an increase of 350 million cars. So even if every one in the US gives up their cars, and the Chinese just keeps to a modest 500 cars per 1000 (instead of the 900 per 1000 in the US), we would still have MORE cars emitting carbon into the air.

But even if we completely reduce our carbon emissions to zero, climate change is already irreversible.

At 4:44, the video goes into renewables (solar & wind energy). Those are not the answer.]

It is believed that somewhere between 2 and 3 degrees Celsius of temperature rise lies a tipping point where the Antarctic ice sheet will slip into rapid and shattering collapse, with catastrophic consequences for cities around the world.

Whether or not we meet the Paris Agreement depends on how sustainably we can live.

Fortunately, in the last 15 years, attitudes across the world toward the environment have shifted. Where once there was ignorance, inattention, and disbelief about environmental problems, now there is concern, a modicum of political will, and a growing understanding of the causes of environmental problems and their solutions.

Policymakers, scientists, and the thinking public now have a will to find solutions — be they engineering, financial, or institutional — that can be brought to bear to solve climate change.

I am commonly asked what an individual can do to live sustainably and combat climate change. We must make sacrifices and break our habits.

[Spoken like a true Environmentalist High Priest. Repent! Recycle! Repent! Reduce! Repent! Reuse!]

Every political, business and lifestyle decision needs to be taken with an understanding of how it affects the environment. For example, we could pose a very simple question “will this action add to or reduce greenhouse gas emissions?”

If it will increase them, then don’t do it, or offset it. The decisions we make today and in the coming years will affect life on Earth.


Professor Benjamin Horton is Chair of the Asian School of the Environment, Nanyang Technological University.

[I am glad to see that he has some suggestions as to what we can do:
First, we can defend against floods with infrastructure...

Second, we can also elevate existing houses and build new ones on stilts...
We can further think about engineering advances that will enable Singapore buildings to "float"....

Third, those living in cities that could be severely affected by rising seas could relocate altogether. Indeed, we cannot rule out the possibility of such mass migrations in the decades ahead.
And other than "the best way to mitigate rising sea levels is to slow down climate change by implementing the commitments laid out in the Paris Agreement..." He at least does not parrot the usual Environmentalism Mantra (Repent! Recycle! Repent! Reduce! Repent! Reuse!).

One of the largest contributor to carbon emission is energy production
Energy– Electricity & heat (24.9%)– Industry (14.7%)– Transportation (14.3%)– Other fuel combustion (8.6%)– Fugitive emissions (4%) Agriculture(13.8%) Land use change(12.2%) Industrial processes(4.3%) Waste(3.2%)
Energy generation in all forms make up as much as 2/3 of global Carbon emissions. This is because of what Friedman calls, "the Dirty Fuel System." What is needed is a Clean Fuel System.

So I would say that the first problem is switching to a Clean Fuel System.

And you are all going to say, "See! We should all switch to Solar and Wind!"

Good little brainwashed twits.

First of all, we are "alternative energy challenged". And solar is too diffused an energy source:
To provide 100% of our current conservative energy needs, we will need 125 sq km. Or more than 150 sq km if we are unable to reduce our energy needs below 6000 MW.
Second, solar and wind are not all that "clean":
Well, there is that whole process of manufacturing solar panels, which requires a great deal of energy. All that energy requires generation via means other than solar power -- usually coal.
“In the case of silicon-based solar panels, which are the most common type, the silicon material requires melting silica rock in roughly 3,000-degree F ovens,” notes The Data Center Journal. “That energy, however, typically comes from coal plants, meaning that although solar panels may produce no emissions when in operation, they indirectly produce a fair amount during manufacturing.”
to get those wonderful turbines, one needs a rather large quantity of rare earth minerals (which, despite their name, are not so rare). Mining and processing these rare earths generates a tremendous amount of “hazardous and radioactive byproducts,”
“A single large wind turbine (rated at about 3.5 WM) typically contains 600 kg, or about 1,300 lbs, of rare earth metals.”
Then there is the problem of disposing of the solar panels. Panels were supposed to last 25 years. But after 5 years, solar panels in Australia are now being discarded, and there is insufficient centres to recycle all those panels.

Solar and Wind are not the solution. It is not about science and technology, it is the limitations of nature. Nothing science does can make the sun shine continuously, or the wind blow stronger and more reliably. As energy sources, they are too dilute, too diffused, too finicky.

If we have a clean energy system, with zero or near zero emissions, we would easily reduce our carbon emissions by 25% - 60% instead of 8 to 10 tonnes of CO2 per person, it would be at most 6 - 8 tonnes or as low as 3 tonnes per person.

The problem of climate change and how it will affect Singapore will require clear minded thinking, unemotional, dispassionate, logical, focused, and reasoned. 

But that's not what is happening.]

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