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Classroom Resouces: Vanishing Point

Vanishing Point
By Bucky McMahon

Spring 2011 / Vol. 12 No. 1

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Discussion Questions

  1. What effects could 7-24” of sea level rise have on an island nation (e.g., the Maldives) or gently-sloping coastal zones (e.g., the Florida Everglades)? What have island nations been doing to cope with the 8” of rising sea level that has been recorded since the 19th century?
  2. Consider the implications of President Nasheed’s migration plan. Where would the people go? Who would pay for a mass migration of an entire island nation? What country is currently helping the Maldives the most?
  3. What does climate “mitigation” mean? The Maldives are at the forefront of pushing other nations to slow carbon emissions. Does President Nasheed want to wait to see if such measures work? Or does he want a back-up plan to move his people?
  4. How much carbon do you think is pumped into the atmosphere every year, to bring people from all over the world to enjoy the beaches and islands of the Maldives? Brangelina are mentioned as big users of the tourist facilities on the islands – can you use a carbon footprint calculator (such as the one noted below) to determine how much they would emit traveling from California to the Maldives and back?
  5. Scientists predict 2.5-6.5 feet of sea level rise by 2100 (approximately one human lifetime from now). What will most likely happen to the Maldives by 2100? What other island or coastal systems are similarly at risk from sea level rise? Do you think the evidence is strong enough to begin moving people away from these low-lying areas?
  6. What does Nasheed mean when he says that the Maldives are “the canary in the world’s carbon coal mine”? Do you agree or disagree with him? Do you think the world is actually paying attention? If the proverbial carbon canary dies, will the other nations take notice? According to the IPCC 2007 report (linked to below), what kind of meaningful action could be undertaken right now?

Websites for Further Information

  • Carbon Footprint Calculator – Air Travel:
  • Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC):

Sea Level Rise in the News


Peer-reviewed Literature

  • Meier, M.F., M.B. Dyurgerov, U.K. Rick, S. O’Neel, W.T. Pfeffer, R.S. Anderson, S.P. Anderson, A.F. Glazovsky 2007. Glaciers dominate eustatic sea-level rise in the 21st century. Science 317: 1064-1067.
  • Rahmstorf, S. 2007. A semi-empirical approach to projecting future sea-level rise. Science 315: 368-370.


Key Concepts

  • Sea-level rise
  • Human population migration
  • Climate change
  • Global energy politics
  • Coastal areas
  • Island nations