If ever a story did not deliver what the headline promised… this is that story:
The Bay of Bengal, in peril from climate change
Nearly one in four people on earth live in the countries that border the Bay of Bengal. The region is strategically vital to Asia’s rising powers. Its low-lying littoral – including coastal regions of eastern India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia and Sumatra – is home to over half a billion people who are now acutely vulnerable to rising sea levels. Storms are a constant threat; over the weekend, a cyclone, Phailin, swept in from the bay to strike the coastal Indian state of Odisha, leading to the evacuation of some 800,000 people.
The bay was once a maritime highway between India and China, and then was shaped by monsoons and migration as European powers exploited the region for its coffee, tea and rubber. Today the bay is being reshaped again by the forces of population growth and climate change.
You already said that. Where’s the proof?
The Bay of Bengal’s coasts are under assault in every dimension: by water conflicts in the Himalayas and by drilling for oil and gas in the deep sea. The bay is a sink of pollution borne by the great rivers that spill into it, including the Ganges, the Brahmaputra and the Salween. Dam construction in China and India threatens downstream communities in India, Bangladesh and mainland Southeast Asia. With sea level rising and deltaic lands subsiding, saltwater intrusion onto farmlands has accelerated, with serious consequences for food production.
The purported rise in sea levels, then, is but one factor, and a small one at that.
If even that:
As Dr. Willie Soon of Harvard shows, ocean level variation is large and affected by many factors. If temperatures rise, water expands, adding to sea level rise. If icecaps melt, levels rise, but if icecaps grow due to increased snowfall, levels fall. If ocean saltiness changes, the water volume will also change.
The land itself moves continuously. Some shorelines are rising and some are subsiding. The land around Hudson Bay in Canada is rising, freed of ice from the last ice age. In contrast, the area around New Orleans is sinking. Long-term movement of Earth’s tectonic plates also changes sea level.
Tides are a major source of ocean variation, primarily caused by the gravitational pull of the moon, the sun, and the rotation of the Earth. Ocean water “sloshes” from shore to shore, with tides changing as much as 38 feet per day at the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia. The global average tide range is about one meter, but this daily change is still 300 times the three-millimeter change that scientists claim to be able to measure over an entire year.
Storms and weather are major factors affecting satellite measurements. Wave heights change by meters each day, dwarfing the annual rise in ocean level. Winds also change the height of the sea. The easterly wind of a strong La Niña pushes seas at Singapore to a meter higher than in the eastern Pacific Ocean.
Satellites themselves have error bias. Satellite specifications claim a measurement accuracy of about one or two centimeters. How can scientists then measure an annual change of three millimeters, which is almost ten times smaller than the error in daily measurements? Measuring tools typically must have accuracy ten times better than the quantity to be measured, not ten times worse.
What the dire assertion of calamity lacks in science, it makes up for in timing.
The last time a storm as powerful as Cyclone Phailin struck the eastern coast of India, 10,000 people died.
So the sense of relief is strong in the state of Odisha, where Phailin made landfall this weekend.
“I felt like I was going to die, everyone was so tense,” said Raju Pradhan, who lives with his family in Odisha.
At least 13 deaths were reported in Odisha, among fewer than 20 recorded across India.
Every death is tragic, but considering Phailin was the strongest tropical storm to hit India in more than a decade, the toll could have been much higher.
You can sense the disappointment, can’t you? Can you also sense the illogic? In what sense are the “one in four people on earth” living in the region be at peril when 99.8% fewer people died this time than last? Evacuation made the difference, presumably, but isn’t that thanks to the technology made possible by the very first-world lifestyle under attack today?
Pollution and subsidence may be serious problems (how would I know?), but claims of imminent peril based on unproven (even disproven!) fright scenarios are rank dishonesty.
Besides, as India proves with distressing frequency, an ingrown toenail can lead to mass casualties:
The death toll in a weekend stampede outside a temple in central India has risen to 112, and more than 100 others are injured, authorities said.
The stampede happened Sunday on a bridge over the Sindh River in Ratangarh, where pilgrims were headed to a temple for a Hindu festival.
A rumor that the bridge was about to collapse caused panicked people to stampede, police told CNN sister network CNN-IBN. About 25,000 people were on the bridge at the time, said D.K. Arya, a local deputy police inspector.
Nearly six times as many people died at a religious festival as in the cyclone. Maybe the water level in the Sindh River was rising due to global warming.