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The latest alarming news about climate change is that huge swaths of densely inhabited land will be underwater by 2050, with their cities “erased.” These reports – which appeared in The New York Times and many other media outlets – are based on a good research paper by scientists at Climate Central, but they get the story wrong.
This is part of a damaging pattern. Climate change is a man-made problem that we need to tackle, but many of the news stories about its purported effects are scaring us without justification and misleading us about how to act.
The paper, published last month in Nature Communications, shows that past estimates of the impact of rising sea levels were wrong, because they relied on measurements of ground level that sometimes mistakenly included the heights of trees or houses. In other words, vulnerability to sea-level rise has been underestimated. That’s important.
But the media have used this to create a dystopian vision of 2050. The Times published a terrifying map showing that southern Vietnam will “all but disappear” because it will be “underwater at high tide.” The Times told readers, “More than 20 million people in Vietnam, almost one-quarter of the population, live on land that will be inundated.” And it warned of similar effects around the world.