As you fly out of Manila airport, as I did yesterday (greetings from Singapore!), you are sure to be struck at the size of the metropolitan area. The metropolitan region covers 247 square miles and is home to 22 million people. The city proper has 1.65 million inhabitants and Wikipedia says it is the most densely populated city in the world.
What struck me is how flat it is. The average height above sea level appears to be about six inches (although that is surely an exaggeration brought on by a birds-eye view). In fact, other parts of the infallible internet inform me that the average height above sea level is 13 feet. But the conurbation begins at water’s edge and it doesn’t start rising until long after downtown has been passed.
When we fight about sea level rise in climate change conversations, most of the time we orient the discussion around its potential effects on developed cities–that’s where all the big money is invested and where the insurance coverage is most complete.
But this city is vulnerable to sea level rise and changed precipitation in a way that rich world cities are not. Because many poor people live in Manila, it hasn’t developed the infrastructure capacity to give it resilience against either event. They have suffered from historical flooding without any help from climate change. A tropical storm as savagely targeted as Sandy in the U.S. could kill tens of thousands and leave millions homeless.
This is one place where the observed average sea level rise of 3 millimeters per year–something that seems laughably inconsequential for the developed world–is actually a real threat to human life.
So while I still feel that actors on the climate stage are exhibiting infantile or criminal behavior, this issue stays alive for me. And to connect it to recent events, I would much rather see Gleick, Lewandowsky, Mann and others of their kidney retire and take up knitting, I am sorry to see James Hansen retire from NASA. He is foregoing a role that gave him a bully pulpit in favor of a more personally satisfying, but far less effective role as an activist.
Any fool can get arrested. It takes a career to get to a position where you can influence public policy. Adopting the first at the expense of the latter is a sad turn of events for both science and politics.