Civics & Politics The Environment Health Economics Social Issues Full Archive
NOW on Demand
Week of 10.23.09

Water World

Is a coastal catastrophe approaching, and what should we be doing about it?

It appears that your computer does not have the Flash Player required to view NOW videos. Visit Adobe to download and install the latest version of the Flash Player.

Imagine you lived in a world of water. Your home is two-feet under. You wade through it, cook on it, and sleep above it. This is the reality for hundreds of thousands of people around the world, coastal populations on the front lines of climate change.

Only weeks before world leaders meet in Copenhagen to discuss climate change, NOW senior correspondent Maria Hinojosa travels to Bangladesh to examine some innovative solutions—from floating schools to rice that can "hold its breath" underwater—being implemented in a country where entire communities are inundated by water, battered by cyclones, and flooded from their homes.

The Denmark conference can't come soon enough. Scientists' project global seas will flood 20 percent of Bangladesh by 2030, stranding some 35 million climate refugees. Some are proposing that industrial nations who contribute to global warming should open their doors to displaced Bangladeshis.

In The News

AFP: 'No global climate accord without US backing'

Baltimore Sun: Rising seas, rising awareness: Climate change threatens to drown Maryland's coasts and islands, but it's not too late to act

The Economist: Bangkok blues —Gloom and pragmatism ahead of the Copenhagen climate-change summit

Global Warming Siren: Arnold Schwarzenegger Video on Climate Change Summit

New York Times: As Time Runs Short for Global Climate Treaty, Nations May Settle for Interim Steps

Web Features

Slide Show: Coastal Crisis
See images of the enormous environmental challenges and wildly creative solutions coming out of Bangladesh.

Interview: Bill McKibben
Find out why some expect October 24th to be the "the most widespread day of political action in the planet's history."
New York Times Op-ed: Yes We Can (Pass Climate Change Legislation) by John Kerry and Lindsey Graham

Pulitzer Center: Bangladesh: Easy Like Water

Reuters: Climate cooperation to help ties, Hu tells Obama

Related Links

A Biography of Dr. Atiq Rahman

Oxfam America: Climate Change

U.N. Climate Change Conference

Oxfam America

Viewer Comments

Commenter: Tempestite
It is surprising that there are so few anti-AGW arguments being shown on PBS given that over 30,000 scientists have signed a document declaring that AGW is not a fact. It is equally surprising that the perpetrators of AGW are scientists actively engaged in the AGW effort are so few, but their proponents are lawyers, statisticians (i.e. Mann et al), politicians, personalities and a myriad of other non-scientists that stand to benefit from the AGW agenda. This is called hi-jacking a science. Nature has shown its fickle face to every field geologist that is worth his or her salt. Just the study of the recent ice ages is enough to convince anyone of the rapid climatic changes that can, and do, take place. If one wants to avoid devastation then don't build your house in an earthquale zone, or along a coast that has a history of rising and falling or being subjected to glacial versus non-glacial periodic flooding. Pay attention to your environment. Nature isn't going to listen to you, she will do what she wants without your permission and you should be prepared to protect yourself from its destructive actions. Spending kazillions of dollars in reducing greenhouse gas emissions will solve nothing. Start moving your coastal cities to elevations above 300 feet (Maximum known high sea-level stand); move the infrastructure inland to relatively aseismic zones. Now you are relatively safe unless an asteroid hits us. Worrying about CO2 is like worrying about what shoes to wear in a tsunami.

Commenter: robinhoehn
I'd rather watch this than the evening news. You are the best thing going i a long time.

Commenter: Maritime Engineer
Thor,has said every thing that I would have commented
on.Ice core & ocean core samples don't lie in my research.The Climate is changing as it has done for
Millions of years.Long before Homo sapiens came on the seen.There are many dynamics ocurring to cause
the ever evolving earth.The earth will continue through adaptation.Mankind will continue in short of a catostrophic event such as NEO or comet strike.Even then mamals survived,to an extent.

Commenter: Robert
I am tierd of all these doomsday predictions. There has been no such thing as real science since they voted that pluto was no longer a planet.

Commenter: Thor
"Climate Change" is real. I believe the data. Water is the principal driver of climate on our water envelope planet and it is truly dynamic. When you think 'climate' always think in geologic or evolutionary timeframes, not annual, decadal, or even a century. True climate is related to centuries or more of natural variability. (sidebar: the 'average drought' in southwest US lasts for 50 years, so says peer reviewed scientific data.) Look at the scintilla of knowledge we humans possess about natural planetary climate change. Climate is never 'static' as stagnation is not how our planet functions. Evolution requires a constantly changing climate. True climate drivers are long-term variations and fluctuations in atmospheric water vapor, methane, carbon dioxide, etc, etc. Other climate effects are from normal earth polar instability and re-alignment occurring as earth's magnetic poles move or switch. There are obvious effects from both cyclic and sporadic solar radiation, and not infrequent cosmic collisions. In proper climate discussions and primary understanding of climate variables, Einstein's time is truly relative. The tree-line in North America continues to move northward, and has for the past 9,000 years. That is what news media calls "global warming". Just a short 7,000 years ago Canada was underneath 1-2 miles of snow and ice. But yet, there are alligator bones and Cyprus stumps in arctic Canada. Bottomline: Life forms like mosquitoes or humans have very little to do with Earth's planetary climate variability, and even less ability to alter, reverse, or stop actual climate change. The short existence of humans on earth and our impact appears to be like a single wave on an ocean beach. The idea that mere humans have the ability to stagnate planetary climate at an 'average' condition we approve of, is hubris and arrogance with a big dose of ignorance.
Survival of change has always been through migration or adaptation. The other option is extinction.

Commenter: Laura
I am always amazed at the denial we American's seek to sell to each other. All the various reasons combined in many of the comments listed can't excuse our blind preoccupation with "let's blame someone else". Do we really think we can rewrite history to cover our own guilt, so years from now our children won't look upon this generation with disgust. Global warming is real, is happening, is impacting every corner of this precious planet! All the finger pointing regarding the behavior of other nations does little to solve this most pressing problem. Is America really going to lead the charge for change, or are we in fact nothing more than a declining nation sinking under our own ignorant arrogance!

Commenter: marigrace schede
This is a sad true comentary, its own country and others countries can come up with better solutions. The Boats and large used old navy ships should be more in utilization. Men in large ships can be taught to protect homeland and become fishermen for livelyhood.
Women should be taught to limit large families using Bithcontrol and learning sewing skills on large boats
with aid from nations UN. Continuing teaching the children and youth education and skills is good on boats.Then a larger population of strong men to work the construction with materials on the shorlines, more inland stone and cement largebuildings.

Commenter: Paul Antanavich
How homo-centric this whole global hand-wringing is.
We have no knowledge of the larger cycles of global climate functioning and still we believe it only because of man's actions that this change is occurring.

Commenter: Sirajul Islam
Good reporting by Maria. It hinted that it maybe necessary that we have to be ready to witness a mass migration from the coastal areas of Bangladesh because storm surges are more frequent than before, there's a lot of places that experience perennial waterlogging, and also salinity is a problem. Water world? Maybe yes. Water is coming down the lanes from the Himalayas, and water from the Bay, and from the sky. 'Water water everywhere but not a drop to drink!' And agriculture? Not so sustainable. Already some parts of the northwest part of Bangladesh sustained drought this year. Too many people? Yes. Global warming. Yes. Money can solve this problem? Perhaps no. Then what? Bangladesh is going to be a security problem, both internal and external.

Commenter: Tanveer
thanks to networks like PBS, our stories are told, i hear all these minor inconveniences amplified to exponential propotions, like the story in the song Kenji, made my fort minor, or the story told in 'where'd you go' by the same group

Commenter: Disgusted
This was a poorly done episode. The guy trying to send us his countrymen left out what they had done to cause global warming -- TOO MANY PEOPLE/overpopulation. This is the most important thing to control to stop global warming and it was not even mentioned here! If this documentary was all you were about it would be time for you to close down.

Commenter: Catherine Henry
Thanks...this is important

Commenter: Doha
Over the years , we all know that Global warming is a burning issue for all of us , all around us-means for this planet. we all are agree with that alarming issue.But it is fact that we are not conscious enough to face that very dreadful and devastating phenomenon , I mean we are concern look like most of the academic stage or hy-pothitical stage --we need to be much more conscious about the practical impact of it's futurity and neededto be prepeared our selves to face that un-expected madness of reality of the environment . ecological-- preservation should be brought up successfully in a large scale with all our collective efforts .

Commenter: Ed Peachey
While your program delivered interesting information about life in the river delta that is Bangladesh, it failed miserably in presenting the full story. In fact, it mislead viewers by presenting the occurrence of annual flooding as connected to sea level rise due to global warming. Global warming is likely involved to some small extent, but there are a complexity of issues that should have been discussed, including river management by upstream India, deforestation in Nepal, subsidence and compaction of sediments, overcrowding and movement of the marginalized to flood prone areas, and sedimentation that adds land to the Delta (as much as 8 square miles/year). I lived in the lower Delta of Bangladesh for 3 years. Flooding is integral to the success of agriculture in the region. Few of your viewer could comprehend the situation in the lower Delta of Bangladesh because it is so far removed from our 'normal' existence. You did them a great disservice by presenting a very narrow view of the issue. I suggest a follow-up program that includes those who are willing to take a more global view.

Commenter: NKTT

Commenter: Eleanor Hall
The program on flooding in Bangladesh was informative and useful. But why are so many of the programs on climate change focusing on faraway places? We learn about endangered polar bears in the Arctic. shrinking glaciers on Mt. Kilimanjaro and in the Himalayas, etc. To really wake up America, we need programs on how climate change is affecting us -- flooding in the Midwest, wildfires in California, etc. Such events are almost always reported as natural disasters and are not linked to climate change. The trends over time are not discussed. I'd like to have PBS shows on how climate change is affecting the US now, how the effects have increased over time and will increase in the future.

Commenter: Roy Cone
Nearly every video report relating to distress areas of the Earth show massive younger people and few elderly. Your Bangladesh piece was on point!

The ONLY cure for poverty that will yield immediate [a few years] result in the elevation of living standards is birth control.

How about distribution of educational information and birth control methods and supplies with teaching methods of food raising and other survival skills?

Commenter: BB
The show presents the issue as the ocean rising as a result of climate change. All of the damage that is presented is a result of flooding caused by cyclones and the subsequent water surge. It does not present how much the ocean has actually risen in Bangladesh. Has the ocean level actually risen or is the issue really about flood control? Is the ocean higher in Bangladesh than it was prior to the recent flooding? Are the floods worse than they were 10, 30 or 100 years ago?

What is happening there is tragic, however, showing these images as proof that we need to stop using fossil fuels is dishonest. Was the flooding in New Orleans proof of global warming?

Commenter: Thomas Clark
Perhaps the government of Bangladesh should take responsibility for the larger poor population. Birth control sounds like the way to go, instead of other nations taking their poor because of the excess carbon emission.

Commenter: Xcorps
I just watched NOW senior correspondent Maria Hinojosa story Water World with her traveling to Bangladesh to report on water rising to disrupt a population.

This is a sad story made even more sad by Marias GUILT TRIP leveled toward America and Canada. Cheap shot interviewing a Indian official asking that Americans take in all displaced Bangladeshes because it's their fault because of our carbon output!

Let's face it here that climate change will happen with human help or not and earthly populations will die because of natural disasters. Suggesting that displaced peoples of such disasters be shuttled to 'guilty'countries was a journalistic cheap shot! Maria chose her sound byte subject well for that end!
Her other interviews were great.

Commenter: T R Black
No mention of grotesque overpopulation strips your report of any credibility. There is no dignity in overpopulation, especially of the poor. Any show that doesn't put human overpopulation at the top of their priorities is wasting their time and misleading their viewers/listeners.

Commenter: Don-n-ABQ
TO Commenter: Xase:

That is dumb.

Do they want to come here?

Remember what happened when President Andrew Jackson moved the Cherokees, Seminoles, and other tribes to Indian Territory?

The people of Bangladesh have been living there for thousands of years. They are used to the climate, the weather, etc. They would not be happy here.

They would become resentful, which would lead to the abuse of alcohol and drugs, which leads to crime and violence, which leads to resentment.

Imagine if they were all moved to central Wyoming. You think they would be happy and like that?

Not all of their problems are due to global warming, some it is soil erosion, deforestation, poor farming techniques, etc.

No, we should help them fix it there, where they live, where the want to live.

The Dutch did it in the Netherlands. We can help do things there in Bangladesh.

Taking them to the United States is not a solution, just another band-aid. Find a cure, not band-aids.

Commenter: Bill
To be sure global warming needs to be put under control. Driving awareness of how global warming effects our planet is necessary. I did find Now's coverage of "Water World" to be less than fair. While it is true that the U.S. is guilty for having too large a carbon footprint, to suggest that displaced people of Bangladesh should migrate to the U.S. because of it is absurd.

Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries on the planet, with a population of over 150 million people its land mass is smaller than the state of Illinois. Bangladesh still has a growth rate of 1.88%. With or without global warming Bangladesh at some point in the near future will need more land to provide food for its population. Let's not forget that deforestation for cropland also contributes to global warming.

Commenter: Xase
My solution is to bring all those people in Bangladesh to America. We're all humans on this planet and should care for one another.

Commenter: Shaf Chowdhury
Dr. Rahman raises some good points, particularly about relocation of affected people. I'm not aware of any major studies that evaluate possible scenarios of evacuation and re-establishing communities that are affected by rising water levels.

Thank you, Maria, for your fantastic reporting. Also, keeping the documentary free of political propaganda makes it far more educational and touching.

Commenter: Marcella Respini
Yesterday I asked people to share and donate to the Facebook cause to STOP GLOBAL WARMING and only one person donated and seems like few notice the global warming videos I post. My worldwide friends on FB tend to be very political but focussed so much on the health care and the war issues that the environmental concerns seem to not be getting the necessary attention and why is there no ability to share this story of what is happening on Facebook where Rachael Maddow could see this as we need to get the mainstream to see that there is interest and cover these stories as well. Help me help you!

Commenter: Paul David Warrington
At the end of Water World you mentioned a director that will coach citizens how to produce public concerns to put on public places like U-Tube.
I am new to the NOW site and have been unable to find any reference to this. Thanks Dave Warrington

Commenter: Don-n-ABQ

A number of studies conducted in recent years on natural gas reserve and undiscovered resource potential have all concluded that Bangladesh has a mean undiscovered gas resource of at least 32 Tcf. The two most widely recognised studies are the United States Geological Survey (USGS) / Petrobangla Study (2001), which declared the mean undiscovered resource potential to be 32.1 Tcf, and the Hydrocarbon Unit / Norwegian Petroleum Directorate (NPD) Study (2001), which declared the mean undiscovered resource potential to be 41.6 Tcf. Both of these studies, however, only took into account offshore acreage out to a water depth of 200m.


Commenter: Don-n-ABQ
Here is my idea:

Send in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and build a massive dike and other flood control structures.

How to pay for it?

The DOE EIA estimates that Bangladesh has 5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas (I think there could be 10 trillion when a good, comprehensive, seismic study is done; like the Mississippi Delta region of Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico).

As we build these flood controls, we extract the natural gas and sell it to China and use a 1/4-to-1/3 of the proceeds to pay back what we spend.

We don't do this for free, we help Bangladesh, we sell to thirsty China, we put some Americans and some of the people of Bangladesh to work.

If we don't do this China just might cut us out and do it instead.

Commenter: Forrest M. Mims III
Your program on the terrible flooding problems in Bangladesh reported again and again that climate change is responsible for the floods. The text on your web site attributed the flooding to global warming. However, the situation is far more complex, for, unless I missed it, your program failed to mention land subsidence, land compaction, deforestation, soil erosion and expansion of the population into flood-prone regions. For example, land subsidence alone may account for an elevation change of -30 cm over the past several decades.

Television programs that fail to present the full story about potentially serious ecological and environmental disasters do a disservice to both your audience and, especially, those who are at risk by diverting attention away from the array of mediation measures that simply must be quickly implemented.

Frankly, in view of the seriousness of the situation in Bangladesh, it is appalling that your research team and writers failed to address the big picture. Are they unaware of the abundant literature on the flooding problems in Bangladesh? If so, they should at least review the work of Md. Khalequzzaman of the Department of Geology and Physics at Georgia Southwestern State University. His report "Flood Control in Bangladesh through Best Management Practices" is based on objective science that addresses all the water issues that threaten the country, including climate change ( Many other reports on this serious problem are also available.

Will "Now" revisit the Bangladesh situation with, perhaps, Md. Khalequzzaman and others who can properly explain the potentially disastrous environmental situation in that country?

Forrest M. Mims III

Commenter: Russell Seitz
Why is the word 'isostasy' missing from the the script?

There is an unsubtle geophysical difference between land sinking and seas rising, and deliberately ignoring it in the case of the Sundarbans erases the difference between environmental science and climate policy propaganda

Commenter: RP
Thank you for putting this program on the air. It clearly shows the effects our greedy western lifestyle has on the people on Bangladesh

Water World

Slideshow: Coastal Crisis

Interview: Bill McKibben

Audio: Stream | Download
Buy a DVD
Contact Us

Topics search results will display here.