In 2006, three brothers uttered these profound words: they said ‘“I’ve been to the year 3000, not much has changed but they live underwater.”’ These brothers, named Kevin, Nick and Joe of the Jonas Brothers were of course referring to climate change and how the melting polar ice caps are raising water levels in the ocean. Soon these rising waters will start narrowing in on the land and submerging coastal towns, cities and entire countries. Climate change uniquely effects these people whose homes could be destroyed forever in the next 100 years.
I have been living in the Netherlands for the last few months and have grown to love it. The Netherlands has always struggled with water management since much of the land lies at or below sea level. Climate change will amplify these existing struggles and potentially make solutions impossible. It pains me to think that the city that I have grown to love could be gone in 100 years. I cannot even imagine the pain of people who have lived here, or another low-lying place, their whole lives. Here are the places that could be gone or severely damaged soon if we do not get our collective act together.
1) The Netherlands
About one third of the Netherlands is below sea level, so water is already a constant battle for the Dutch (water management is a major theme in my Dutch Studies class). While some of the most inland areas might be safe, most of the population lives in at risk areas. While the Netherlands is fortunate enough to afford large and expensive infrastructure projects to try and mitigate the effects, other countries are not as lucky.
2) The Maldives
The Maldives spreads over many (over 1000!) small islands. This island Nation is located in the Indian ocean and is a popular tourist spot. However, this country is already feeling the effects of climate change as beaches erode away and less of the land becomes habitable. With sea level rise, it could be mostly underwater and uninhabitable by the end of our lifetime.
3) The Marshall Islands
Much like the Maldives, the Marshall Islands is an island nation severely at risk of going under water. In the near future, the people of the Marshall Islands will have no choice other than to leave or undertake large and expensive land reclamation projects. While climate change mitigation is a major issue the Marshallese government focuses on, the Marshall Islands alone cannot stop climate change!
Kiribati is yet another tropical paradise in danger. This country is made up of 32 different atolls and is located between Hawaii and Australia. Like many other similar island nations, Kiribati is one of the countries directly in the line of fire of climate change. Even small increases in sea level will have disastrous effects on coastline erosion, agriculture and their economy. Unfortunately, Kiribati is one of the world’s poorest countries, so they have limited resources to protect their low-lying areas.
Bangladesh is a low-lying country with many river deltas. It is also one of the most populous countries in the world with a population of over 150 million people since 2011. A rise in sea level puts the quarter of the population that lives on the coast at risk from coastline erosion, tidal surges and floods. However, an increase in extreme storms, flooding, droughts and salinity intrusion puts the entire population and the agriculture dependent economy at risk.
Palau is another island nation in the South Pacific put at risk by climate change. Island nations are disproportionately at risk from rising sea levels. While Palau has some higher ground, moving agriculture there would be a difficult considering the land is much less fertile. Palau has made active efforts to preserve the environment. It was the second country to sign on to the Paris Climate accord and requires all visitors of the country to watch informational videos about preserving the environment and sign a pledge to be environmentally friendly upon arrival.
This island nation located off the East Coast of mainland Africa is put in great danger by climate change. With one of the world’s smallest gross domestic products (GDP), they have few resources to combat the effects. The Seychellois rely on coral reefs to help break the waves and lessen coastal erosion. However, spikes in ocean temperature can easily kill off the coral that helps protect them from the waves, increasing coastal erosion. Since 80% of the population lives in coastal regions, sea level rise poses a huge risk to this country.
Vietnam is another low-lying and densely populated country put at risk by various effects of climate change. Between having an extensive river delta and 1,800 miles of coastline, Vietnam is very at risk of flooding and damage from tropical storms and typhoons. The Mekong Delta in the south of the country is one of the areas in the world most at risk of going underwater if sea levels continue to rise.
Indonesia is a country made up of an archipelago with many islands in Southeast Asia. Rising sea levels could submerge as many as 2,000 of these smaller islands by 2050 as well as 42 million homes in coastal areas. In addition, climate change has lead to more uncertain growing seasons, opening up the country to increased food insecurity. Increased instances of extreme weather is already noticeable in the country which increases risks of injury, illness and death.
While Japan has plenty of highlands not at as much risk of flooding, these areas are unsuitable for farming and living, meaning most people live on or near the coast. All of Japan is affected the increase in extreme weather caused by global climate change. Increases in rainfall, extreme storms and flooding especially put the coastal regions in jeopardy.
While these highlighted countries are some of the most vulnerable in the world due to their geography, everyone is put at risk by climate change. The main reason I am so passionate about environmentalism and reducing the impact of climate change is because it is the one issue that affects everyone and everything on this planet. It disproportionately affects poorer and smaller countries who have actually contributed the least to the problem and have less resources to deal with the effects. This is incredibly unfair. Those in countries that have contributed the most and have the resources to stop it need to raise our voices and amplify the voices of those who are most affected.
I encourage everyone on this Earth Day and every day to get loud about this issue! In addition to raising awareness and hopefully paving the way to bigger systematic changes we should also reflect on our own habits and make changes where we can. I have plenty more articles on climate change and veganism which I encourage curious readers to explore!