Humanity’s difficulties dealing with climate change trace back to a simple fact: We are animals. Our cognitive and limbic systems were shaped by evolution to heed threats and rewards close by, involving faces and teeth. That’s how we survived. Those systems were not shaped to heed, much less emotionally respond to, faceless threats distant in time and space — like, say, climate change. No evil genius could design a problem less likely to grab our attention.

This is a familiar point, but some new research on sea level throws it into sharp relief. Let’s quickly review the research, and while we do, keep this question in the back of our minds: “Does this make me feel anything? Even if I understand, do I care?”


This post is not about seal levels, so I'm outta here.
butterflydreamThis post is not about seal levels, so I’m outta here.

The first bit of research is a paper that’s gotten a lot of press attention: “The multimillennial sea-level commitment of global warming.”

Sea-level rise is a vexed issue in climate discussions because everyone wants to know where sea level’s going to be in 2050, or 2100 — years that we can, at least dimly, imagine. I’ll still be alive in 2050, presumably, and my kids or grandkids in 2100, with any luck.