Tuesday, January 19, 2010

13. The Plight of Bangladesh

Another trick in the propaganda toolkit of the global warming doomsayers is depiction of some relatively minor problem as a major disaster. The Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC: the parent body of the IPCC), Yvo de Boer, gave an example at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December, 2009. He said that by 2100 a rise in sea-level of one meter (39 inches) could displace 15% of the population of Bangladesh – i.e., more than 20 million people -- who currently live in low-lying coastal areas, mostly in the common delta of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers.

This certainly seems like a significant issue. The current population of that nation is 156 million, and the land area is 144,000 square kilometers (89,400 square miles), including perhaps 25,000 square kilometers (15,000 square miles) of low land that could be flooded. At present, the population density in the safe areas is more than 1100 people per square kilometer (2900 per square mile), one of the highest in the world. Moving the people affected by flooding to higher land could increase the population density there by 17%, which would certainly exacerbate the population problem.

In reality, Mr de Boer's claim is misleading on four counts. First, the sea-level rise by 2100 that he mentioned is more than three times greater than the best estimate by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Second, the sandy islands are shrinking because of erosion due to the ebb and flow of water in tides and storm surges, and not because of submersion due to any steady increase in sea-level.

Third, the projected rise is small compared to tides in the Bay of Bengal, which are typically between 1 and 2 meters (3 to 7 feet(. Tropical cyclones in the northern Indian Ocean are rare compared to those in other ocean basins (e.g., the Atlantic), but the storm surge can be up to 7 meters (23 feet) above mean sea level if it comes ashore near high tide. The worst such event in the area in recent times was the Bhola typhoon in 1970, which killed nearly 500,000 people.

The IPCC tries to give the impression that global warming will lead to more frequent and more intense cyclones, but history shows no such correlation. There is some evidence that hurricanes and typhoons in all ocean basins are affected by El NiƱo-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) changes in circulation in the Pacific, but that phenomenon is clearly unrelated to the rising global temperature.

Finally, the present population growth rate in Bangladesh is 1.29% per year. If this continues until 2100, the population will more than triple, to almost 500 million people. The increase would be more than 15 times the number of potential refugees from the Ganges delta. If all these people live in the higher areas, the population density will be an appalling 4200 per square kilometer (11,000 per square mile).

It is astonishing that presumably well-informed officials such as Mr de Boer would endorse the asinine idea that the plight of Bangladeshis exposed to coastal flooding is a reasonable justification for expending scarce resources on curbing CO2. Even if it were effective in slowing sea-level rise, it would do nothing to solve the real problems, which are that it is hazardous to live in areas vulnerable to storm surges (whether in Louisiana, Tuvalu or Kutubdia Island in Bangladesh), and that endemic poverty multiplies the danger. In the short term, the people need early warning of typhoons (which should now be available from satellite observations), better communications to permit dissemination of the warnings, adequate transportation to safer ground when necessary, and perhaps some assistance with sturdier housing. In the longer term, the whole country needs better education (46% of adult males and 59% of females are still illiterate), training in job skills, better birth control, and commercial and industrial developments that offer a livelihood more rewarding than subsistence fishing.

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