Disaster looms with rising sea levels - islands
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May 12, 2009: This news article concerns a United Nations meeting to discuss Global Warming. The latest predictions from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are that the sea level will rise 59 centimetres (23 inches) by 2050. This is expected to displace 150 million people from island nations and low-lying areas. Currently, no international plans exist for how to deal with such climate refugees.

Update: A later BBC article indicated that islands have actually grown in recent years, as coral debris, and sediment have built up, and land reclamation projects have taken place. This does not, however, directly refute the original article. The question remains as to whether the islands can continue to build up faster than the sea level rises. The two developments are entirely different processes with different causes and different rates of activity. Even the BBC article says that while the islands will still be there in 100 years "it is still unsure whether many of them will be inhabitable."

Update: Nine years from the original story AFP reports that the islands are still growing according to extensive studies by the University of Auckland. The researchers are quoted as backing away from the idea that the islands are likely to sink.


Game and Story Use

  • What extreme measures will world governments take when entire Nations disappear beneath the waves?
    • Some nations may try to grab a chunk of territory out of a rival country. Wars could easily break out. The side that's attempting to relocate and invade have their work cut out for them, but can accomplish quite a bit when desperate.
    • Diaspora and refugees are a more likely situation. Entire nations will vanish. The countries they flee to will have sudden shifts in the demographics. Local resources may not be enough to support them, which could result in famine, or slum conditions that lead to outbreaks of crime or disease.
  • The BBC article provides just enough of an opposing viewpoint to leave the door open for the GM to make a call on it. If you're playing a game set in the future you don't have to rule there's no more island nations. Instead, assume that sediment build-up has bought them time, and maybe that some careful engineering projects have shored up the more vulnerable parts of the low lands. People can be pretty clever, especially when they're desperate.
    • You could also decide that anthropic global climate change is a myth, hoax, or political lie in your game.
      • Note that the climate change doesn't actually need to be anthropogenic - the last Ice Age ended in plenty of sea level rises that were nothing to do with humans and the same is likely to have occurred at the end of other cool periods.
  • Nations disappearing under water are a standard trope myth, legend and fantasy.
    • The old school D&D module X5: Quagmire features a rescue mission for a society that is vanishing under water.
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