Greenhouse Britain


A witch conjures a storm and brings terror to the seas, woodcut from ‘Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus’, (1555)

The next report from the  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is due late in 2019. The lag time between data gathering and data publication, plus the need for an agreed consensus amidst the contributors have conspired in previous editions to present overly optimistic scenarios, it’s now widely recognised that they’ve routinely underestimated the rate of global warming. A recent study suggests that we might see 1.5 metres of sea-level rise before 2100: ‘Revised median RSL [relative sea-level] projections for a high-emissions future would, without protective measures, by 2100 submerge land currently home to more than 153 million people’. If we don’t avoid those high-emissions scenarios we’re also locking in greater future sea-level rises as Antarctica and Greenland give up their land-based ice to the sea.

A look over the Dengie’s sea walls at high tide and imagining another 150cm of water is a sobering matter – factor in the conditions that caused the spate of inundations referred to in a previous post and you can see we have a problem.

In 2007 the US artists Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison exhibited ‘Greenhouse Britain; Losing Ground, Gaining Wisdom‘ around the country – visualising the effects of global warming on parts of the British Isles – most notably with maps showing the land losses at sea-level rises of 5, 10 and 15m (models indicate that warming over Greenland is likely to be of a magnitude that would eventually lead to an almost complete melt of the Greenland ice sheet resulting in about 7 metres of sea-level rise from that source alone).

Screen Shot 2018-04-04 at 21.03.35
5m of sea-level rise
Screen Shot 2018-04-04 at 21.05.12
15m of sea-level rise

These maps do not include the potential of defensive systems, nor the effects of storm surges – but one of those can be relied on and the other cannot. Based on current population density and distribution a 5m rise would displace 2.2 million people – mainly in the east of England – and it’s clear from the maps that Essex has a global warming problem. The Dengie peninsula faces extinction as we know it if we cannot act collectively to choose another path and create a carbon neutral, negative in the immediate turn, future. One way we might act locally in service to this aim, is to source our needs locally – to reinvigorate and make resilient our local sources of food, energy, water and more, and reduce our demand for stuff from elsewhere. #TakeBackControl has proved a very popular cry in Essex in recent years – let’s make it more than a soundbite by choosing to meet our needs locally.


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