Once again a national leader makes the false claim that his low-lying island nation is about to be flooded because of “climate change”. It’s not hard to show that he’s telling great big porky pies.
An article was posted on the Responding to Climate Change (RTCC) web site recently (h/t – Richard Cumming). I found the Marshall Islands government press release it was based on and in which the Marshall Islands Foreign Minister, Philip Muller, said the king tides were the latest in a series of increasingly serious and regular climate impacts. It’s taken me a while, but the article is finally finished.
Muller went on:
“While king tides are not new to the Marshall Islands, their frequency and ferocity are clearly intensifying. For those of us in the Pacific, silly discussions about the scientific truth of climate change are futile. We see with our own eyes that the oceans are rising, and our tide gauges confirm it. We know there is only one explanation for this unprecedented phenomenon – climate change has arrived. Last month, US Secretary of State Kerry said climate change could be the world’s “most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.” Here in the Marshall Islands, at an average of just six feet above sea level, we are at ground zero.”
The only truth here is that king tides are not new. His other assertions are vivid dreams at best and cynical lies at worst because climate change had nothing to do with his troubles.
King tides (commonly known as spring tides) are very high (and low) tides that occur at the full and new moon, when the gravitational pull of sun and moon combine. They cannot happen more than twice a month, so their frequency is certainly not “intensifying” as Mr Muller claims. Also, since the sun and moon are not growing larger, the “ferocity” of spring tides can’t intensify as Muller claims — although they do vary a little, as the orbits wobble a bit.
Muller claims his tide gauges confirm the oceans are rising. Really? To check that, let us go to the gauges installed around the Pacific by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology from about 1993. Their monthly reports warn against making predictions because the records aren’t long enough, but we need some starting point to evaluate Muller’s alarming claims.
You can download the monthly data at the South Pacific Sea Level and Climate Monitoring Project (SPSLCMP) and produce this graph, as I did:
Multiplying the slope shown on the graph (0.0005) by the number of data points (241) gives 120 mm of sea level rise over 20 years. Let’s accept it for the sake of argument. The average annual rise was 6 mm, or 600 mm over a century — in line with some forecasts to 2100.
But the Marshall Islands won’t be destroyed. They’re at a low altitude, but not that low — they average about 2000 mm above the water. The 6 mm/yr is enormous compared with the recent historical global SLR of 1.9 mm reported in the IPCC (AR5, 2013), which comments:
It is very likely that the mean rate was 1.7 1 mm yr–1 between 1901 and 2010 for a total sea level rise of 0.19 2 m. Between 1993 and 2010, the rate was very likely higher at 3.2 3 mm yr–1; similarly high rates likely occurred between 1930 and 1950. [bold added]
It’s hard to believe that the Marshall Islands sea level is dangerous. At either of the highlighted rates in bold, there’s little danger to coral atolls because they usually keep pace with rising or falling sea levels. Though most atolls we see today formed since the last ice age 15,000 years ago, some coral atolls have been around for several hundred million years.
If anything dramatic is about to happen to the islands, there’s no evidence of it. The monthly reports from the SPSLCMP used to show a graph of long-term trends but after June 2012 they no longer appear. The last graph in 2012 is instructive for the Marshall Islands, showing a long, slow decline or even stasis for the last 15 years. It doesn’t get me excited about the possibility of watching the death of coral islands any time soon. This is a snip taken from Figure 13 on page 28:
There are thousands of houses and buildings in the Marshall Islands. About 70 were damaged to some degree by the recent king tides. The rest are fine. By definition, the damaged houses were built too near the sea, because the vast majority are unaffected. Sure, there’s huge pressure on available land on a small island, but to claim western fuel use caused this damage is either a joke or a fraud. Take your pick.
This photo of the economic hub on Majuro Atoll shows the robust nature of these islands that belies the “fragile” and “threatened” description counterfeited by Philip Muller and others.
Google Earth lets us see the built-up areas on Majuro.
About 17 kilometres round the atoll there’s an international airport. An operational airport.
On Kwajalein Atoll someone built tourist hotels near the beach.
They’re not barely subsisting on breadfruit, coconuts and fish, are they? In fact, life in the Marshalls looks downright cosy. It could get even cosier if we would only give them more money.
Perhaps in compensation for, say, ruining the climate?