As we learned in the section about the evidence of climate change, sea levels have risen over the last century. The most intense sea level rises have occurred within the last two decades. Currently, it is projected that sea levels across the globe will continue to rise during the twenty-first century due to increased thermal expansion of the oceans and the increased melting of ice caps and glaciers.
This rise in sea levels puts people living in low elevation coastal regions (approximately 10% of the global population) at risk from seawater intrusion, inundation, and serious storm surges.
For many South Pacific islanders, sea level rise is causing frequent saltwater flooding that destroys their crops and contaminates their drinking water. As a result, many people have already abandoned their traditional island homelands. The inhabitants of the Carteret Islands in the South Pacific who will be discussed further in the Global Climate Change and Spirituality section of this chapter were the world’s first such “climate change refugees” (Figure 20).