Apparently tired of waiting for the rest of the world while its fragile coastlines and mangrove wetlands are devoured by rising seas, Bangladesh has recently kicked its pace of solar panel installation into high gear.
Reports from the International Renewable Energy Agency found that Bangladeshis were installing small, rooftop solar photovoltaic generators at the stunningly rapid rate of 80,000 units each month in early 2014. In a country as financially strapped as Bangladesh, where only 47% of households have access to electricity, this is an extraordinary achievement, especially when one considers that the 2.8 million solar rooftops already gathering clean sunlight in Bangladesh will expand to challenge the 6 million threshold in just a few years.
(On the front lines of climate change low-lying coastal Bangladesh is one of an increasing number of regions vulnerable to sea level rise from rapidly destabilizing glaciers. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)
While fossil fuel special interests twist the arms of politicians in an attempt to stymie solar development in Western countries like Britain, Australia, and the US, employing underhanded political tactics and pumping Orwellian terms like ‘solar blight‘ and ‘sea ice contamination‘ into the mainstream presses, Bangladeshis are charging ahead. And the reason couldn’t be more clear — the seas are rising.
The Gift of Fear
In the media analysis of human response to climate change, we often encounter the analogy of the frog in a pot of slowly heating water. As the analogy goes, the frog stays in the pot as it grows ever-warmer. The slow rise of temperature disables the frog’s pain and fear responses. Eventually, the frog’s muscles shut down and the frog boils.
Admittedly, this is a flawed analogy. Put a frog in a heating pot and it is wise enough to jump out once the water gets too warm — about 25-30 C. Why does the frog escape? Simple: the gift of fear. Eventually, the frog becomes uncomfortable about its situation in a slowly heating pot. The water is just a little too warm and it continues to head in the wrong direction. Rational survival instinct, at this point, intervenes to remove the hazard. The frog jumps out.
Now, keeping the frog in mind, let’s consider Bangladesh’s situation for a moment. They can see the storms that take more and more of their vulnerable lowlands with each passing year. They can see the ever-increasing advance of the tides. They know their land is in danger. To their west, their nearest neighbor, India, is building a wall to keep them out, should they have need of a refuge. And when the tides rise, as they will due to the vicious force that is human-caused climate change, they will most certainly need a refuge.
Last week’s announcement by NASA that six key glaciers in West Antarctica are now in irreversible collapse hammers the fact further home — the entire nation of Bangladesh is standing on what Sun Tzu used to refer to as death ground. In short, if the nation of Bangladesh does not decisively act, it will perish. And the only difference between Bangladesh and every coastal city, state, and country is this — Bangladesh is aware of its plight and is fighting to do something about it.
In essence, this is the gift of fear: the rational ability to fight for one’s survival — be it frog, person, city or nation.
Every Coastal Region is Now on Death Ground
(Greenland ice sheet velocity map as of 2010 shows numerous high-speed glacial flows toward the ocean. In the above map, blue is slow motion, red is fast motion. In the upper right hand corner of the map, the Zacharie Glacier, indicated by the letter Z, features a high speed flow that reaches all the way to the center of the Greenland ice mass. As of early 2014, scientific reports found that the recently confirmed destabilization of the Zacharie Glacier meant the entire circumference of Greenland was destabilized and moving at an ever more rapid pace toward the ocean. Image credit: Joughin, I., B. Smith, I. Howat, and T. Scambos.)
With at least 15 feet of sea level rise now locked in by the world’s destabilized glaciers and with potentially far worse sea level rise on the way if fossil fuel burning continues, one cannot hammer home the point enough — every coastal region in the world and every person living in these regions is now living on death ground. They are all in Bangladesh, even though most aren’t yet aware.
Survival action is as required of them as it is of the frog, as it is of the Bangladeshi. Swift and sure action. And even then survival is not guaranteed.
Miami, a city living in the state of climate change denial that is Florida is certainly on death ground. It is a place that will be severely challenged by another foot or two of sea level rise, much less 15 or more. The Outer Banks of North Carolina — a thin and beautiful strip of land, a redoubt between ocean and sound — bound to be swept away. Virginia Beach — a city surrounded on three and a half sides by water. Washington DC — built on a low-lying swamp at the mouth of the tidal Potomac. New York City — a place whose vulnerability to the rising seas and storms of human warming became all too real two years ago.
The list is almost endless. For wherever there are coastlines, seas, harbors, tidal rivers, mudflats, estuaries, oceans, there are human beings. We are nothing if not a water and ocean loving species — ever drawn to the life-giving edge of the sea.
According to the UN Atlas of the Oceans, about 3.1 billion people live within 150 miles of a coastline. My parents, my sister, my grandmother, my grandfather and a majority of my other friends and relatives are among them.
How many of your friends and family live on or near the coast? Or is it you who is also standing with the Bangladeshis on death ground?