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Next 30 Years to Sway Sea Level Rise for the Next 300 Years, Study Finds

Rising sea levels around Norfolk Island, a small Australian island in the South Pacific Ocean. Peter Cousins / Flickr

Each five years of delayed action on climate change now could result in as much an additional eight inches of sea level rise by 2300, stark new research shows.

A study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications assumes that the world will keep warming under 2 degrees Celsius, and estimates that every five-year delay in reaching peak emissions over the next few decades adds additional inches of sea level rise to 2300 projections.


The research also finds that sea levels will rise between 2.3 and 4 feet by 2300 even under best-case scenarios. "Sea level is often communicated as a really slow process that you can't do much about ... but the next 30 years really matter," lead author Matthias Mengel told Reuters.

The study suggested that worst-case scenarios could be hindered:

"By combining climate and sea-level uncertainties, our analysis reveals a persistent risk of high sea-level rise even under pathways in line with the Paris Agreement. However, extreme sea-level rise projections at the 95th percentile of our distribution can be halved through early and stringent emission reductions."

"This is a great example of how delays to mitigation can make the costs of climate change add up," professor Dave Frame, director of the New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute, Victoria University of Wellington, told Gizmodo. "It also shows, again, the importance of the thermal expansion and mountain glaciers for sea-level rise this century.

"I don't think arguments about sea-level rise are anything like a game-changer," he added, "because if people aren't prepared to mitigate on behalf of their children, whom they love, it's hard to see how information about people 300 years away will do more to alter their behaviour."

For a deeper dive:

Washington Post, Reuters, USA Today, Gizmodo

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Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.

"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."

Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.

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"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.

Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.

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"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.

Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.

University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.


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