Global warming threatens coastal cities and ports worldwide

News broke in the past few weeks that scientists have begun observing the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, a globally significant glacier system that's predicted to cause sea levels to rise somewhere in the range of 10 to 15 feet. Globally. The loss of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet alone will cause sea levels to rise upwards of three feet. More significantly, the release of methane from the ice sheet's collapse and melting will expedite the melting of the remaining Antarctic ice, which will cause another 10 to 12 foot rise in sea levels.

We've known this was going to happen for decades - at least since a global temperature rise of one degree celsius was observed in 1980 - but what we didn't know was how long it would take. Estimates at the time of the Kyoto Protocol (late '90s) ranged from centuries to millenia. However, more accurate observations from new satellite imagery now peg that number to decades.

Long-term - like, really long-term - impacts will be substantial. Virtually every port city will be partially or completely overtaken by the rising ocean, including Shanghai (#1 container port, by traffic volume), Guangzhou (#7), Mumbai, Ho Chi Minh City, Kolkata, Osaka-Kobe (#28), Alexandria, New York (#25), New Orleans, and Miami. The majority of South Florida will disappear, as will portions of Louisiana. Short-term, we're already seeing the effects. Weather shifts are altering and shifting product availability and logistic plans by hindering and destroying production capabilities, making roads impassable, altering or eliminating the availability of natural materials, or just flat out destroying production facilities.

A few examples:

  • This past winter brutalized the Midwest, Northeast, and even the traditionally balmy Southeast U.S. as a result of changes in the flow of the jet stream across the U.S. So even though the weather was colder - it was due to the effects of global warming. And it caused delays throughout the country. Regions were without power, people missed a lot of work, and roads were delayed and impassible. Between January and March alone, I was out of office for 10 days of work due to the conditions, and twice my travel on the Pennsylvania Turnpike was delayed for hours due to weather-related accidents that snarled trucks up for the better part of a day. 
  • We all remember the Asian flooding of 2011 and its impacts on the availability of hard drives and other computer components. Pricing for digital media storage was affected for the better part of two years. Now, many Balkan states are flooding at levels not seen in centuries, which is alarming not only for humane reasons and the millions of displaced people, but also because Eastern Europe, including the Balkan states, had been cultivating an emerging manufacturing center. 
The big takeaway from this climate change news is that your organization should be focusing on its risks - facility locations, supplier locations, sources of materials, and ports of origins. The image above is from NASA, and the red areas indicate those that will be flooded/lost. You'll want to avoid those. 

Supplementary to this is the consideration of Latin America, particularly Mexico, for any relocated services. The loosened trade restrictions, the available infrastructure with direct connections into the U.S. and resulting shipping costs, the reasonably low labor costs, and the region's relative freedom from natural disasters - both historical and impending - have created what is essentially a safe, affordable manufacturing center.
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Nicholas Hamner

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