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“A large section of the mighty West Antarctica ice sheet has begun falling apart and its continued melting now appears to be unstoppable…a rise in sea level of 10 feet or more may be unavoidable in coming centuries.”

                -- “Scientists Warn of Rising Oceans From Polar Melt,” New York Times, May 12, 2014

Scientists yesterday reported the existence of deep, canyon-like valleys in the bedrock underneath the Greenland ice sheet that could facilitate the extensive flow of ice into the ocean…estimates of Greenland's contribution to sea-level rise may have to be revised upward for this century and beyond.”

-- “Deep Valleys Under Greenland Mean Higher Sea-Level Rise,” Scientific American, May 19, 2014

In our lifetime we will merely experience stronger storms, hotter heat waves, and higher floodwaters as a result of climate change. But over the course of centuries, rising seas from melting polar ice sheets threaten to erase the physical legacy of today’s coastal cities.  A recent study found that sea-level rise from a global temperature increase of +3 °C would eventually threaten more than one hundred cultural World Heritage Sites, from Ayutthaya to Zanzibar, including the Statue of Liberty.  

When contemplating the vast and admittedly policy-irrelevant timescales over which whole civilizations rise and fall, newspaper articles and policy reports fall short.  But poetry is great and would suffice. With apologies to the poets, is it so difficult to imagine Emma Lazarus’ New Colossus meeting the same fate as Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Ozymandias?

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of bronze
Stand in the ocean . . . Near them, 'neath the waves,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose torch,
And silent lips, mild eyes and beacon-hand,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that shaped them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Mother of Exiles, give me your tired,
Your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level seas stretch far away.