Heed global warning on sinking Shanghai

By Chen Weihua (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-03-30 06:39

Shanghai's skyline may look futuristic, but that future is now shadowed by recent comments that the city could be inundated by ocean water by 2050.

Paul Brown, an environmental writer for the British newspaper The Guardian, told a meeting in Guangzhou, capital of South China's Guangdong Province, that rising tides will engulf Shanghai, Tianjin and other coastal cities by 2050 when global temperatures are expected to rise by 2 C.

In fact, Brown is not the first to unnerve residents in Shanghai and other coastal cities with such horrific scenarios.

In the movie An Inconvenient Truth, former US Vice-President Al Gore also laments that Shanghai and some other coastal cities will be submerged if we don't take drastic measures to halt global warming. The movie, released a year ago, won the Oscar for Best Documentary last month and Gore could well win the Nobel Peace Prize for his environment crusade.

While admitting that global warming is a reality, some Chinese experts have, nevertheless, dismissed the prediction of a flooded Shanghai by folks like Brown as hypothetical.

According to Chen Manchun, a research fellow with the Tianjin-based National Marine Data and Information Service, coastal cities would take measures to guard against this, such as restricting construction projects along the coast and building higher and stronger sea walls to fend off the advancing tides.

But Chen also admitted that based on his team's research, by 2050, the sea level at the Yangtze River Delta, where Shanghai is located, will have risen 20 to 60 centimeters, and that the Bohai Sea region, where Tianjin is situated, will have risen 30 to 60 centimeters.

It is true that with China as the world's largest construction site and with Shanghai's supersonic construction speed, we might be fully capable of building an embankment to keep out the rising ocean. It would be a gigantic task to wall the 32,000-kilometer Chinese coastline, much like building the Great Wall.

Even with that kind of ocean wall, it would be like living in a house on a dormant volcano crater for those of us in Shanghai and other coastal cities. You never know when you will be engulfed by the overflowing lava, or, in the case of rising sea water, whether my Shanghai home on the 28th floor of a downtown apartment building will have an ocean view by 2050.

It would be scary for anyone living in a coastal city, watching the ocean water rising up outside the embankment.

Erecting a strong embankment may not make people feel safe. Just look at the numerous cases of fortifications rupturing along China's major rivers and lakes, such as the Yangtze River, Pearl River and Poyang Lake in the last few decades. Each time an embankment bursts, hundreds or thousands of people are killed and many more become homeless.

And this is just the rupture of a river embankment. The cracking of a sea wall will surely inflict damage of a much larger magnitude, considering the might of the ocean as demonstrated in the Asian tsunami of December 2004.

While global warming may still be debatable for some, the deteriorating environment is a hard fact. Drought and flood are often reported as the worst in a century or worst on meteorological record.

Summer heat spells have been lasting longer than ever, and increased human activity has undoubtedly contributed to the unfriendly weather patterns we are experiencing.

In this sense, even if what Brown and Gore claim about Shanghai and other coastal cities is hypothetical, it should at least serve as a warning to all of us to do something for our deteriorating environment.

The government, non-governmental organizations, schools and individuals should all promote environmentally friendly development and lifestyles. Every country, every city, every household and every individual should start to ask how much they should be blamed for the melting glaciers, depleted ozone layer and rising ocean water.

Shanghai has lately taken a number of steps, such as installing energy saving lightbulbs, giving more priority to the bus system, assigning more lanes to bikers and replacing coal gas with cleaner and more efficient natural gas. These are all measures that will help reduce the emission of carbon dioxide the culprit behind global warming.

Shanghai has also taken measures to limit the number of cars in the city by auctioning off license plates. But that is not enough. At the current rate of 5,000 or 6,000 additional private cars each month, it won't be long before Shanghai's streets become a parking garage and exhaust factory.

As Al Gore suggests, there is a lot for us to do in our daily life.

We should plant trees, lots of them. We should use electricity-efficient appliances. We should walk, or bike or use mass transit instead of driving.

In Shanghai, there is no reason to turn on air conditioners these days when the climate is so perfect.

As for myself, I feel inspired by my 16-year-old daughter and her classmates. My daughter is leading a student group of Jane Goodall's Roots & Shoots, persuading people to use handkerchiefs instead of paper tissues. That is like planting lots of trees.

The best response to Paul Brown's assumption that Shanghai will be flooded by 2050 is to do exactly what these middle school students have been doing.

(China Daily 03/30/2007 page10)

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