Wed, Dec 16, 2009 - Page 8 News List

Imagine Taiwan in the year 2500

By Dan Bloom

Two recent articles about climate change (“How much more proof is needed for people to act?” and “Ignoring the future — the psychology of denial,” Dec. 4, page 9) emphasized the importance of facing major issues that will have an impact on the future of the human species. Climate change is indeed an issue that is on everyone’s mind, and while Taiwan seems to be far removed from the experts who recently made their way to Copenhagen to try to hammer out blueprints to prevent global warming from having a Doomsday impact on humankind, Taiwan is also on the front lines of these issues.

Despite most observers’ belief that solutions lie in mitigation, there are a growing number of climatologists and scientists who believe that the A-word — adaptation — must be confronted head-on, too. The fact is — despite the head-in-the-sand protestations of denialists like Marc Morano and Sarah Palin in the US — that we cannot stop climate change or global warming. The Earth’s atmosphere has already passed the tipping point, and in the next 500 years, temperatures and sea levels will rise considerably and millions, even billions, of people from the tropical and temperate zones will be forced to migrate in search of food, fuel and shelter. This includes the people of Taiwan.

By the year 2500, Taiwan will be largely uninhabited, except for a few stragglers eking out a subsistence life in the heights of the Central Mountain Range. The rest of the population will have migrated north to Russia’s northern coast or northern parts of Alaska and Canada to find safe harbor from the devastating impact of global warming.

A researcher at Academia Sinica, Wang Chung-ho (王中和), told a reporter for the Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper) earlier this year that there was a good chance Taipei would be flooded by the end of this century, adding that the the capital might have to be relocated to higher ground in less than 100 years. Wang said the entire Taipei basin would likely be engulfed by rising seas by 2100, triggered, of course, by global warming. Wang said his research showed that most of the west coast of Taiwan would be submerged by rising sea levels by that time, as well.

Wang’s report, which was presented at a public forum sponsored by Academia Sinica, theorized that sea levels would rise by at least 1m, gobbling up all low-lying areas of Taiwan, from Kaohsiung to Taipei. “Taiwan must be prepared for the worst-case scenario,” Wang said, according to the Liberty Times.

If Wang is correct, and Taipei is faced with major flooding in 90 years, then what will life be like in Taiwan in 490 years? Most likely, Taiwan’s population will have left the country for faraway northern regions to find shelter in UN-funded climate refuges in places such as Russia, Canada and Alaska. Taiwanese climate refugees will join millions of others from India, Vietnam, Thailand, Japan and the Philippines. It won’t be a pretty picture.

When a reporter asked Wang if this was a possible future scenario for Taiwan some 500 years from now, he said it was very possible, and that these issues needed to be addressed now, if only as a thought exercise, and even if it all sounded like a science fiction movie script. When the same reporter asked acclaimed British scientist James Lovelock if such a scenario for Taiwan were likely, he said in an e-mail: “It may very well happen, yes.”

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