Newsletter #43 - November 2009 for the
Crisis Coalition at

What is a Footprint?

Comparison of US and Australian ecological footprints with African. Every Australian puts 26.5 tons of CO2-e into the atmosphere every year, every American puts 23.6 tons and most Africans a lot less than 1 ton each.

For earlier Footprints visit our archive.

The Crisis Coalition aims to raise awareness and to galvanise action.
For the latest information read this fully referenced report.

Dear Friends

Australia is the first country in the world to undertake a national assessment of the consequences of sea-level rise. The headlines on Saturday were silly, but the report was not. With a sea-level rise of 1.1 meters about two million Australians would become refugees and have to leave their homes and the places they love.

The media centre did better with this report and this one.

This 1.1-meter rise by 2100 is based on the maximum IPCC figures and were calculated mainly from the expected expansion of water from temperature increase. It takes no account of on-going melting of the great glaciers in Greenland and the Western Antarctic. Let alone the possibility based on ice-core samples and reported before in Footprints, of ice sheet collapse.

This is purely a time-line issue. Ice core and similar evidence shows from past climate changes that for every 1 degree rise in temperature we should expect a minimum of 4 meters rise in sea-levels. It looks like 8-12 meters is now inevitable. The only question is when, how long do we have to wait.

Catastrophic collapse is a real possibility, and could be in our lifetime. Climate scientists say we are likely to cross this threshold later this century. Earlier Footprints have the evidence and references.

If we do that we are looking at 13-meter sea-level rise. If you go to this interactive map and enter 13 meters, and check out you favourite place, or where your grandmother lives or your retirement home, and ask yourself, what do I do to prepare for what cannot be stopped?

Here is the list for what is at stake and what has to be reconstructed over the next few decades. It is so enormous that large tax increases will be required to finance it.

1. For starters, some 200,000 homes worth perhaps $20 billion.
2. 1800 bridges and their supporting earthworks, roads and so on. Some are for railways, requiring relaying of tracks and stations.
3. 360 schools, colleges and universities, with their sports facilities, complex specialist training centres and libraries.
4. 258 police, fire and ambulance stations. As these are the core of any emergency rescue missions they would have to come first, but then what of bridges and airports? At this point everything becomes urgent.
5. 170 industrial zones, too often built on reclaimed land. How many people work there? Where are they to be relocated to? Massive disruption.
6. 120 ports, placed low on the list but the most important for an export-oriented country. And this is needed for only a 1.1-meter rise. It poses enormous questions on trade with our major partners that keep this economy going: China, Japan and the US. They too will be having the same problems. Shanghai, Boston, London, Florida …. The list goes on and on. With trade reduced, where will we get the money to rebuild?
7. 177 hospitals, retirement homes and other health services. That just staggers the imagination.

There is no estimate of the cost, but my guess is that 4 or 5 trillion dollars would not cover it, including reallocation costs, dealing with toxic outfall from seaside garbage dumps, rebuilding our agricultural sector and finding ways to deliver food and services to a population that is expected to reach 40 million.

The report talks of barriers and dykes, but this will not stop rising ground water, and therefore are useless except against storm surges. As these are forecast to become monthly events its unlikely that there will be much protection.

In any case funds will be needed to rebuild and resite most port facilities and Sydney airport.

A more sober report on evacuation plans does not give much assurance that anyone will have a clue of how to handle the coming situation. Being politicians they are likely to leave it until its too late. With the real possibility that we will face many meters SLR how far uphill should the new facilities and homes and infrasructure go? Ten kilometers inland?

The issue for local government is appalling as there is no clear legislation. “Damned if they do and damned if they don’t” was the comment. If they do their duty and refuse building applications near the sea they are likely to be sued, and if they don’t and the building is washed away they stand to be sued again.

The full report is available here. You can download individual chapters on methodology, evidentiary material, detailed consequences to landholders and infrastructure, insurance and legal, and the role and obligations of local government.

In particular the study recommends that the Australian Emergency Management Committee “improve coastal community awareness of and resilience to natural disasters”. To my mind this is the most powerful tool we possess, the natural practicalty and resilience of the Australian people. Harness this in a conscious way and face the appaling ethical issues and we can survive better than most. I set this out in my report "Climate Change, National Security and Ethics."

We live in interesting times.

John James

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