Bangladesh, Terrorism, and Climate Change

With millions living close to sea level, the disruption of climate change is going to hit places like Bangladesh like a hammer


Bangladesh has had a string of assassinations over the past few months, and it’s part of an even longer trend within the country: bloggers and professors and generally agitating secular folks are turning up dead, hacked apart from machetes. It’s the sort of recurring, shocking event that can create a narrative of a country riven by terrorism, where fear stalks the alleys.

That’s sort of true, and sort of not. Certainly a country where LGBTQ activists are being murdered regularly is some kind of an ugly place, though non-liberal values are to some extent not surprising in such a religious country (most Bangladeshis are Muslim).

However, Bangladesh has a murder rate roughly 2/3 of the United States. Now, I know that the US leads the pack in murder among wealthy nations, but Asian countries just tend to have lower murder rates in general and Bangladesh itself, relative to other less-wealthy countries in the world, is middle-of-the pack. So while these murders are reprehensible and represent a stifling of the sort of debate and discussion that tend to go hand-in-hand with liberty and mass self-determination, they are also part of a larger picture wherein the country is still relatively safe, even with aggressive and violent assassins running around trying to fight social progress by splitting skulls.

What is not safe in Bangladesh, and gets quite a bit less press, is the country’s topography. Check out this map of Bangladesh, and note that its major cities are at least partly beneath the 10m sea level cutoff:bangladesh_10m_lecz_and_population_density1

If there is a recipe for looming threats, that map tells the story. You have high-density locations at very low elevations right next to the coast. The current rate of sea level rise since the start of the 20th century is a bit more than 2mm a year, though that average has been rising in the past few decades and is expected to accelerate due to accelerating global warming, and fluctuations around that average have also been rising due to the increased melting/freezing cycles at the poles due to the increased temperatures.

Given the current population, it is not unreasonable of to figure that by 2100 there will a relocation of 30M+ people into an area already inhabited and high-density, and most of those relocations will have to be repeated in a rolling migration as the cycle continues. That disruption is going to cause more havoc than any murderous religious extremists… but terrorism is a product of fear, and it simply isn’t in peoples’ mindsets to typically consider longer term problems as scary or worthy of immediate action in the face of things like a 0.001% chance of being hacked apart with a machete within the next ten minutes for expressing your mind and hoping for a better future.