The long shadows cast by carbon pollution
With painted white lines on Copenhagen landmarks, Land Under Water aims to illustrate how today’s and past decade’s anthropogenic – human made – carbon emissions lock-in long-term sea level rise. Scientists expect today’s carbon pollution to persist in the atmosphere for such a long period of time that temperatures will rise for hundreds of years, even if we put an end to today’s carbon pollution. The carbon emissions of today, attributed to my, your, and our way of life, will create immense challenges and greatly affect coastal land and communities, our cultural heritage, and peace – in the future.
Sea level rise is just one of the many consequences of global warming. Others are drought, heatwaves, hunger, economic instability. This exhibition focuses on sea level rise. Researchers link carbon emissions to warming, and link warming to sea level rise. Carbon emissions running unchecked until the end of this century can commit global sea level rise of 4.3-9.9 meters. With such a wide range it is difficult to predict how destructive the rise will be and even the time frame is uncertain.
Few scientific models even go beyond the 21st century, making it very difficult to understand the true effects of global warming. One thing we do know is, unchecked emissions mean farewell to our cultural heritage and architecture, farewell to our land. But buildings are non-living and do not suffer pain, imagine the detrimental effect on humans, livelihoods, safety and quality of life. Now imagine the great, safe, healthy planet and society we can pass on to future generations, if we stand up to the task and take necessary climate action today.
The photos in the Land Under Water series illustrate different science-based scenarios of future sea level rise, which depends on how successful we are today in limiting carbon emissions.
This project is supported by Realdania. The Land Under Water exhibition is a part of Live Like Tomorrow, the host city festival during the C40 World Mayors Summit, October 9-11, 2019.
The science behind the projections
The globe will heat up and the sea levels will rise as a result. This much is clear. However, the severity and speed of the rising seas is still a point of dispute between scientists.
The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has constructed four pathways for our possible climate futures – where each degree of temperature rise makes a world of difference. The IPCC call these Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP). They are a measure of how much greenhouse gas is concentrated in the atmosphere and what effect the given concentration will have. The four pathways are all possible scenarios for the future. Our ability to cut carbon emissions in the coming years will determine which pathway, we will follow, RCP 2.6, the most optimal scenario or RCP 8.5, a detrimental future scenario, or somewhere in between.
Land Under Water examines the physical reality we will face under each pathway.
Climate scientists Benjamin Strauss, Scott Kulp and Anders Levermann have created a model using the method entitled committed sea level rise. Using estimates for rising temperatures Strauss et al. calculate the sea level rise we commit to under the different pathways.
The projection lines for the Land Under Water series was created using the ‘committed sea level rises’ method. We have taken the mean values for both rises in temperatures and sea levels.
These have been applied to Copenhagen landmarks using a map tool (Havvand på Land), created for public use by Danish Ministry of Environment and Food. There are several scientific schools and approaches to making projections for future sea level rise. Follow the link to learn about other scientific approaches to sea level projections.
‘let Her sleep, for when she wakes she will wreak havoc on the world’ (Napoleon)
In the year 2000, scientist Paul Crutzen came forward with a concept, the Anthropocene. Since then, the term has been popularised as a proposed name for the geological era that showcases the human imprint on the global environment. In the past decades, tracing back to the Industrial Revolution, we have manufactured needs that are taking a toll on the global environment. When Paul Crutzen was asked to explain the term of the Anthropocene to a pupil, he replied with the following: “That’s actually a more difficult task than giving a scientific talk. But let me try: Anthropocene means that, in today’s world and for the foreseeable future, what is happening on Earth is strongly determined by what humans do. Humans, like you and me, are shaping our home planet to a greater degree than other natural processes. That is a huge responsibility.”
If the Anthropocene is a starting point, we must still acknowledge that humans have not conquered nature: We have only poked at the natural world, and so as to not antagonise her, we should be at war with our unsustainable manufactured needs rather than trying to preserve them through technology.
Our fuelled activities are causing temperatures to rise and sea levels to follow. The oceans, blue and beautiful, will monstrously consume us at a fast pace. Scientists and activists are ringing the alarm. Places we love will be only a memory, if we do not halt our polluting resource-intensive activities and needs to reverse global warming.
Inspiration: Uninhabitable Earth
To change tomorrow we must change our ways today. To change tomorrow is paramount to halt global warming. Business as usual is no longer an option. Our linear growth economy is taking a toll on the planet. For decades, we have had an economy that is guided by the “take-make-dispose” plan. This means that we have extracted raw materials, collected them, created commercial products out of them and then disposed of them. This depletes nature and generate heavy amounts of waste.
Now we must change the rules of the game. We can no longer afford to extract materials and let ourselves be guided by the “take-make-dispose” plan. We must change mindsets and act by the idea that the future is now. One way to reduce the negative impacts of the linear economy is by shifting to a circular economy and the “reduce, reuse, recycle” plan.
Dame Ellen MacArthur, founder of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, explains the concept of the circular economy as an economy plan that keeps valuable resources in a flow: “Within a circular economy, from the outset, you design the economy to be regenerative. So you design a car for remanufacture, you design a car for disassembly, for de-componentisation. So that the materials that sit within the global economy that currently flow off the end of the conveyer belt can go back in.”
With circular economy we have a solution to fight sea levels rising. By keeping resources in a flow, resources are made regenerative and less waste is generated. We can reduce our carbon footprint and reduce the greenhouse gasses that contribute to sea levels rising.
Emil Kofoed Braunschweig
Flora Petrine Hartvig Jakobsen
Dida Marie Hartvig Jørgensen