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The Threats of Sea Level Rise: An Eco-Geopolitical Visual Analysis

Jorge Nowell-Enriquez, Author

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Narrative Description

Description of the project
Process of Development:
It is challenging to represent visually the great amount of academic production and the always growing scholarship uploaded to the World Wide Web. Indeed, this visual production describing climate change represents a way of culling through information and images on the internet and using digital technology to piece together a visual narrative about sea level rising and its consequences.   
Video Processing scholarship:
The process of conversion of scholarship into images was complicated for several reasons.  First, there were ambiguities in scientific discussions about the rate of change of global temperature.  Second, there has been an explosion of scholarship about global warming and its effects, including the description of numerous problems that scientists have been finding for me to consider.  Third, there was the decision I had to make about the parameters of what I would choose to cover with the video.  Fourth, was how or whether to present the debate from both sides of the political spectrum.  Fifth was deciding how to select from my own artistic productions to make points both academically and aesthetically.  Finally, there was the time I spent learning to use the video editor program and its functions.   To define my research and prepare an appropriate visual presentation I had the advice of Professor Wendy Luttrell helping me to overcome the challenges of each step.   Her experience with the transformation of knowledge into images and awareness of visual research methods was very important to do this project.
Avoiding Political Deliberations:
The sea level rise produces a sequence of problems including coastal areas floods, human migration, destruction of the habitats of coastal areas and coastal ecosystems.  I wanted the video to feature the actual challenges that people face as consequence of the suffering produced by sea level rising independently of the temperature’s rate of change.  I wanted to adopt political neutrality to avoid becoming an echo of a political position.  The academic and scientific discussions also are often used to promote ideological propaganda and my aim is to visually represent the problem with as little political bias as possible.  As a consequence, I discarded all document and video that did not fitly into this personal determination.
Setting limits:
The goal of this work is to learn and to explain the risks of the rise of sea level while avoiding deliberations about global warming.  The idea was to resist falling into deliberations of climate change because it is politically charged and either position becomes bent and influenced by a political perspective. I learned that climate change is very complex, multi- dimensional and it presents great variety of manifestations and effects, as well as unexpected consequences.  It was a difficult task to define the scope of the problem and to present an issue narrow enough as subject-matter that could  be dissected from the bulk of changes produced by global warming. The process of selection allowed me to define and to frame a specific problem to research.  I chose sea level rise, but even this focus results in multiple problems.
            In addition, I understood that the problems produced by the rise of sea will impact human and natural habitats.  Initially, the research shows that the immediate damage is to populations living in coastal places. These places include the human geography of big cities where the floods will push migratory movements and these migratory movements are the now being called “climate refugees.”  This is another problematic issue because national and international migrations have historically been natural and normal behaviors.  However, the treatment of climate refugees complicates the politics of who may and should be able to cross national borders and seek asylum.  This becomes a challenge to policy makers and adds another issue to  their agendas regarding immigration. I chose not to address these politics in the video.  Instead I wanted to expose the human movement sparked by the sea level rise, limiting its focus to explain which populations are at risk and the urgency to prevent the destruction of communities or their urgent need of moving.  My aim was not to identify a cause for the damage, who is to blame, or to present solutions.  The video does not include any processes to promote social justice; therefore, I avoid all kinds of ethical or moral statements that can represent a judgment.  The rationale of production was not to go further into philosophical or legal deliberations about the damage.  The common scope of researchers working on climate change and sea level rise has focused on scientific discoveries of the trend implying that every day that goes without preventive action, the world moves toward a worse scenario.  The human dimension of ecological damage is often emphasized. 
            In my research I became aware that the sea level not only affects cities and communities of people living in coastal places, it also reaches natural habitats.  I learned that the extension of the damage is broad; therefore, I had to decide how to treat the destruction of natural habitats and indigenous species.  Again, another problem was establishing how to present the extent of the damage.  The warming of the ocean produces a chain of reactions, starting with an increase of the volume of water as a consequence of Arctic and Antarctic melting.  The warming of sea water indirectly produces others problems such as acidification as a product of the absorption of carbon dioxide, and the depletion of oxygen produced by the proliferation of algae that extract the oxygen depriving animals and plants of this essential element.  The extent of collateral biological damages due to the warming of sea waters are outside the focus of this work.  The limit of this capstone is to describe current threats to the life in different habitats such as estuaries, marshes, and mangroves; and the risk of disappearing big deltas such as those of the Nile or Ganges rivers that will result from the destructive effects of lasting floods of marine salty water.  But the extent of the rupture of chains of life that exist on these places is left outside the scope of this capstone limiting its focus on ecosystem damage.
            Coastal communities are affected by environmental pollution produced by human settlement, and these are indirectly related to seawater floods.   An example of this is plastics debris accumulated and deposited in coastal areas by seawaters. These were not included in this capstone. Indeed, environmental destruction produces health risks due to the destruction of productive land and food shortages that will increase malnourishment.  The desertification of islands or coastal farms produced by invasion of salty water is a big problem for communities who rely on products harvested in this kind of soil.  Basically, the flooded coastal places and islands lose the capacity to sustain life.  Even more, flooding produces risks to the wellness of coastal area inhabitants who are exposed to new health problems such as the proliferation of deadly vectors as mosquitoes that can find a perfect habitat for reproduction on the flooded areas.  There is also the danger of the organic contamination of fresh water sources by the floods, including contamination of underground aquifers.
The research and specific identification or detailed description of health dangers is not part of the focus of this project.  This capstone focuses on the destruction of infrastructure, farms, sources of fresh water and food, and describes the process of desertification and erosion; each of these problems can be subject matter for further investigation.
 Delimitation of floods:
            Several kinds of floods are related to sea level rise, and all kinds of floods are related to weather change.  Setting a limit to the scope of the floods I would research, and to produce the video was cumbersome. This choice is complicated because flooding produced by surges is eased by sea level rise.   Also, tides can become destructive once their reach is extended by the sea level rise.  Surges are floods pushed by strong winds but not by sea level rise. Tides can be more destructive and intrusive as a consequence of the high sea level, but tides are not by themselves a product of sea level rise, so I did not consider these in the video.   In addition, the floods produced by rains, hurricanes, monsoons, and others were not researched; although these are part of the climate change phenomenon that scientists study.  An interesting case is the Ganges River delta because it is flooded regularly and it is a cyclical recurrent phenomenon.  However, the delta includes different ecosystems, and one that will be directly affected by sea level rise is the mangrove forest of Bangladesh.  This mangrove forest is the biggest in the world and its over flooding will destroy vegetation, produce lack of oxygen, spread salty water over fertile soils, and this whole sequence of problems are a consequence of sea level rise.  This problem will push a mass migration of millions of delta’s inhabitants.  Sea level rise will also affect millions of inhabitants living in under-sea level lands, or in only a few feet over sea level, including millions in some the largest cities of the world.  I chose to focus on increasing level of the sea that will flood populated centers, ecosystems, and fertile soils of coastal areas.  This delimitation of the subject matter excludes phenomena eased by the rise of sea or those not related, although these too are products of climate change.

Best Practices to Realize the Project goal
Getting Hardware.
The first technological step was getting access to a good computer with appropriate capacity to do a good production.  One of the main problems of video production is the great amount of bits (RAM) necessary to process each frame.  Each frame needs memory and processing capacity because video-processing deals with at least a dozen frames per second.  Therefore, the computer’s speed for processing is important. The computers of the Graduate Center have some limitations, thus I needed to secure access to better equipment with capacity to do the job smoothly, otherwise the computers crash, and stop working and the loss of material is frequent.  The production of this project needed a computer with capacity to capture screen shots with a good resolution, image processing capacity and capacity to process 3D images.  Working with digital visual material means having the capacity to capture, record, and edit videos at enough speed and without crashes.
            With good screen capturing capacity, the edition of the video was possible without loss of material or waste of time solving technical problems. Indeed, film equipment was not necessary because the video was made with screen captures and inserts of photographs.  In addition, a few images were produced and processed with a smart phone, or a small photographic camera.  The quality of the production is enough to be displayed on a TV screens or a computer screen.  A computer with more capacity is necessary to process and edit more time and better resolution.
Getting software.
            A second decision was the choice of software to produce a semiprofessional video.  The first and easily accessible and available platform is Windows 10, thus the logical program was Windows Movie Maker (WMM).  However, WMM has many limitations and probably is technologically lagging because several software producers are offering better video processors, mainly to use with Apple computers.  Another important limitation of WMM is its inability to do screen captures.  This project is based on multimodal material and includes podcasts, photographs and screen snapshots which WMM cannot process.  WMM cannot upload many common formats. Moreover, the constant crashing of Microsoft’s programs running on the windows 10 platform was incomprehensible and unbelievable.
            The offer of programs to record and edit video is great, however some programs are expensive and these do not offer constant actualization which can mean having to purchase the updated software again. After discarding the use of WMM, I started the search of an open source program.  Between several free products I decide upon OBS Studio.   This program is better than WMM and provides a good set of tools to do amateur editions with screen captures.  However, this program crashed frequently and the records become lost.  In addition, the use of its applications is complicated; probably this program is a good option for a professional video producer because its commands are complicated and difficult to set.  The third option and final choice was the VSDC program with specific applications to record the screen, to produce slideshows, and to do camera records with an interface that is easy to use.   Once a screen capture is done, it is easily uploaded to the video editor and once it is edited it is possible to export in good amount of video formats.  This program is semiprofessional, has good amount of tools, and it is relatively user-friendly.  Another important trait is its free constant actualization.  This program runs smoothly on windows 10 platform and never crashes.
Getting Software to record and edit sounds.
Because I had to produce a soundtrack I downloaded the Audacity program.  It is a good program, has appropriate capacity and tools, but some commands are difficult to use, especially for recording.  I downloaded and edited music, effects, and podcasts.  This program does not edit sound track from clips, but its formats are compatible with VSDC video editor, and it charges easily Audacity sound tracks.  The VSDC video program allowed some sound edition and this trait diminished the use of a sound program.  I recorded several podcasts that I did not add to the video because some of these recordings lasted more than an hour and my video clip was five minutes long.  In sum, Audacity was useful to download, edit, and add sound effects to the downloaded music and special effects. 
Relationship to track and course of study
The white paper requires a description of the capstone’s relation to the courses work of the individualized track, thus I am writing how the course work of my career is related to the sea level rise. Indeed, Latin American Studies describes how indigenous people used to live environmentally friendly and with a sustainable economic system. These people had a cultural clash with the Spaniard conquistadors and their high culture, and the colonial extractive economy led to destruction of natural resources and ecosystems.  Obviously, the natives had experiences facing natural disaster, and the new human geography in towns and cities changed their centuries-preserved habitats.  The course The Political Ecology of Social and Environmental Justice deals with the human-nature relationships and it studies the unsustainability of modern lifestyle and culture.   
In Sociology of Culture I learned that one of the traits/component elements of Western economy and culture is food, and food requires agricultural production in farms. Thus, the Latin American plethora of natural resources has been destroyed, and ecological systems are disappearing as consequence of the constant quest for lands to farm and mine.  This constant transformation produced by immigration and the new culture of overconsumption eased the risk of catastrophes, as it is studied by Introduction to Security Studies.  Although the vision of this capstone work is global, Latin American shores suffer the effects of the phenomena and are another case of study.  
Coastal cities suffer floods alongside the catastrophic natural destruction of habitats that affect ecological systems that exist in shores and coastal cities.  A specific case is mangrove, the forests with capacity to survive some amount of salty water that often have been destroyed by new urbanizations of towns and cities that become vulnerable to sea surges, and now the sea level threatens several places around the world.  Urban development produces two kinds of destruction.  First, the destruction of the ecological system condemns plants and animals living on the mangrove’s system to disappear.  Because mangrove protects shores from erosion the destruction of this natural barrier with capacity to contain sea floods and surges makes coastal urban developments  prone to constant floods.  This phenomenon is well known in Florida where marshes were dried giving place to cities that now are suffering constant floods as consequence of urbanism and human settling; also several islands in the Pacific are in an extreme situation and beginning to disappear.     Moreover, populated deltas of big rivers will flood permanently.  These economic, social, and ecological symbiotic relationships are the subject matter of The Political Ecology of Social and Environmental Justice, and the course Introduction to Security Studies which provided a good scope of the dangers the world is facing.  In this case, climate change produces a great variety of changes spurring risks of catastrophes, and sea level rise threatens not only millions of individuals living on coastal regions, but also threatens and destroys fresh water sources including underground reserves.  There are threats to health too, because after flooding the possibility of epidemics is great.  Thus, millions of inhabitants of big coastal cities such as Osaka, New York, Miami, Boston, and Rio de Janeiro will suffer the consequences of sea floods.  The rise of sea level allows surges and storms to go deeper inland producing erosion and loss of productive infrastructure.  It is easy to understand consequent changes in estuaries and the destruction of great amount of natural habitats as deltas, marshes, and mangroves. From the point of view of Sociology of Culture, I can understand that people from coastal towns will emigrate, or already are migrating, losing the opportunity to practice their coastal traditions.  It is a rupture of community networks.   The amount of climate refugees can reach a billion; three hundred million immigrants will be a direct consequence of sea level rising.  This will force people to migrate toward cities, overcrowding and producing problems of security, health, housing and the challenge to adapt to the culture of city life.
Security Studies allowed me to understand global risks and threats, mainly those related to war.  The political science courses, Introduction to International Studies and to Concepts and Theories of International Relations discussed theories related to international issues, and to the role of different actors in different levels of analysis.  These courses also explain the role of governments and international organizations dealing with international threats and geopolitical developments. There is an important academic connection with the course of International Political Economy because political theories study the quest of power; culture as soft power and military as hard power.  These are tools to influence other countries, and thus, U.S. foreign relations can leverage what economic resources it considers important.  The International Political Economy explains economics and international financial systems as part of the U.S. power that promotes the extraction of natural resources with the cheap labor of other countries.  This extractive system produces environmental degradation and natural habitats destruction; therefore, the destruction of the means of life as a consequence of environmental catastrophes will push coastal populations to migrate and settle in cities.
 Lifestyle in cities, according to Sociology of Culture, is understood as high culture and its consumerism; if it is good for business it is becoming not sustainable.  The Political Ecology of Social and Environmental Justice course explains how natural habitats and communities disappear, as in this case, leading to migration from coastal places.  Certainly, coastal human beings create settlements and their cultures are facing the threat of destruction as a consequence of the sea level rise produced by the melting of Arctic and Antarctic that will destroy their habitats.  As an example of the danger, several studies alert that the complete melting of Greenland may increase the sea level by eighteen feet. A similar process was studied in Introduction to Graduate Liberal Studies and it is the historical advance of The Frontier toward the West and the establishment of plantations.
Doing Visual and Arts- Based Research is a course that challenges traditional research paradigms.  This is a course that introduced me to the possibility of immersing myself in a subject matter beyond words and searching for a way to present research through multi-modal and multi-media formats and to consider ways to present multiple interpretations, including through researchers own art forms.  This course influenced me to include my own water colors of sea level rising in my video.   I see this course as related to the Film History I course I took.  This course studies the interpretative work in each frame of movies to produce affective meanings, influencing how spectators “read” the message. Thus, it can become a powerful political and commercial tool like the first producers of silent movies theorized about the use of the new form of art to send a message with different objectives from visual research.  The study of the evolution of early film procedures of production and edition was very useful to do this video production.

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