If you found out that a comet were going to hit the earth in the year 2040, would your heart be overcome with fear? Would you be on-board to do whatever we can to save the planet within that mere thirty-two year time span? Now suppose you found out it wasn't a meteor, but a gradual melting of the world's glaciers that was going to make the planet uninhabitable and wipe out all forms of life. Would you be more concerned? Less?
Most of my fellow comp-sci majors would still be living in 2040, in a world free of apocalyptic events. News of a flooded planet should certainly raise your blood-pressure when you realize that it means that your life would be cut short by thirty years or better. Even if it weren't due to happen until 2100, that's certainly going to cut our grandchildren's lives quite a bit short.
What a terrible way to go! How could we let the earth be swallowed by melted ice (sometimes known as water) when the effects of global warming are basically reversible? Truth is, enough people don't believe this type of catastrophe could ever happen, which is making it very difficult to get through to people when encouraging them to live more responsibly. Why would someone want to impede their luxury over a myth? Waterworld was just a really bad movie, right?
Unfortunately, forecasters are predicting that the runoff from melting glaciers would eventually cover the surface of the earth(1). Some researchers have predicted that this process will be complete by the year 2100, others give us until 2200. Two hundred years?!?! That's forever, right? There's still plenty of time for Bruce Willis to gather a half-dozen of his closest friends and make some sort of heroic gesture to right the situation. The bad news is, it will take more than six or seven renegades to correct the gradual heating of the earth. It's going to take at least eight of us.
There are some real wise guys out there, claiming that the melting of a few icebergs won't change the sea levels significantly. Well guess what, they're right. Icebergs are floating in the ocean and have therefore already displaced their mass in water. That means, when they melt, the seas won't increase at all. This would be exciting news if we were only witnessing the melting of a few chunks of floating ice. The problem is, the ice we are talking about is in glacial form. That means that their mass is supported by land and is therefore not effecting the sea levels in any way. As those glaciers melt -- or chunks of them fall off into the sea -- they raise the water levels significantly, all over the planet. The remaining ice over Greenland alone is almost 684,000 cubic miles. Adding that to the ocean would raise sea level more than 23.6 feet...and that's just one glacier! (2) Tragically, it's going to take much less than that to change the coastlines and devour small islands. That process is in motion and must be stopped now!
The most frightening thing about the progress of melting ice, is the momentum. Once the glaciers have started melting at such a quick rate, a steady stream of water begins to flow through it. This water causes friction, which causes heat. Additionally, the rivers of melted ice eat away at the remaining glacial bits, chiseling them into chunks which melt even more quickly.
So, what can we do to help reverse global warming? You need to be the eighth person. You need to hop on board, tell Bruce you got this one, give Liv Tyler a kiss, sing an Aerosmith song and buckle up for conservation. Reduce your use of electricity (3), Reuse (4) and repurpose items and Recycle (5).
In conclusion, I apologize if I've frightened you. If you're panicking about the fact that your great-great-and a few more greats-grandchildren are going to be living underwater in the year 2200, you can relax. The asteroid Apophis(6) is going to take the planet out way before that.