Friday June 24, 2022


Rain forests may be known as the planet’s lungs, but it’s when standing before the seas, with their crashing waves and ceaselessly cycling tides, that we feel the earth breathe. The ocean, say scientists, is the source of all life on earth. It is also, say philosophers, the embodiment of life’s greatest terror: the unknown and uncontrollable.

This duality has become increasingly manifest in the climate discourse of recent years, as ice melts, seas rise, and shores everywhere face storms of a ferocity unseen in living memory. But even as the ocean has become the subject of hand-wringing over what we’ve wrought, it has also become a keystone of hope that we may limit the damage if we act now.

First, the bad news. While the front lines of climate change are emerging all around the globe, the first major wounds of global warming occurred in the low-lying island nations of the South Pacific, where communities have always lived and died by the sea and its bounty. For years now, there has been far more dying, as they have been ravaged by climate-­change-related storms and flooding. When these countries have implored larger and wealthier—and more culpable—countries to do something, they have mostly been met with silence. Indeed, at a recent summit in Bonn, Germany, delegates from wealthy nations refused to support an effort to make sure that discussion about compensating poorer ­countries for climate-­change damages would be on the agenda for COP27, the U.N. climate conference set to be held this November in Egypt. But it won’t be long before these powerful nations are facing the sea’s wrath too. The U.S., U.K., Germany, Brazil, China, India, Japan, and Indonesia are all among the countries with large populations living on land likely to be below sea level by 2100.

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