As the United Nations climate-change talks in Copenhagen begin Monday, two representatives of San Rafael's Dominican University will be there helping to shape the debate on the issue that many believe will change the world as we know it.

"We are going to have to pay the piper for something, but how bad it gets is still up to us," said Sarah Diefendorf the chairwoman of the Greener Dominican Task Force and associate director of the Center for Sustainability at the university. "We can't turn it back, it's too late for that. The damage has been done."

Lauralee Barbaria, director of the Green MBA program at Dominican, will join Diefendorf in Copenhagen.

"You have to look at this problem in the long view," she said. "There is so much to be done it can make you anxious, but you have to look at it over the long term."

Adapting to rising seas and higher temperatures is expected to be a big topic at the U.N. climate-change talks in Copenhagen this week, along with the projected cost - hundreds of billions of dollars, much of it going to countries that cannot afford it.

Elevating buildings, making taller and stronger dams and seawalls, rerouting water systems, restricting certain developments, changing farming practices and ultimately moving people, plants and animals out of harm's way will all have to be accomplished if scientists predictions of high seal levels is correct.

Diefendorf and Barbaria will focus much of their efforts in Copenhagen on helping those third world countries prepare.

"One key is to focus on the whole financial aspect for these developing countries, creating the financing to adapt with rising sea levels," Diefendorf said.

And because it is developed nations that have causes most of the problem, they bear responsibility to help out poorer nations, some argue.

"But there is some question about what they are willing to commit to," Diefendorf said.

So she will encourage those developing nations to put their own financial mechanisms in place to generate revenue needed to protect themselves, including encouraging public/private partnerships with Western businesses and tourist taxes, among other things.

"Climate change will make every problem these countries have worse if nothing is done," Diefendorf said.

Barbaria will also focus on developing nations, hoping to get women more involved in the process.

"Women need to have a piece in this discussion about this," Barbaria said. "In many of these countries women do not have a say or a role. There has to be gender equality."

She also believes in the power of change coming from the private sector.

"Business can help bring positive change and they need to be involved," Barbaria said.

Climate change will also have an impact in Marin. Sometime over the next century huge shoreline swaths of Marin, including Hamilton Field, Highway 37 and the Tamalpais Valley could be under water if global warming causes the bay to rise by a meter, the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission has said.

The commission used a meter - a little more than 3 feet - based on the projected impact of global warming made by scientists. The time frame is 100 years, although it could occur more rapidly.

Maps show the bay pushing almost all the way to Highway 101 in parts of Novato, as well as water covering low-lying areas of Mill Valley, Sausalito and Tiburon, among other places.

San Francisco International Airport, parts of San Jose and the East Bay could also be under water as the bay rises.

Some years the Bay Area will go through extended droughts. Other years we may get unusually heavy rainfall, officials have said.

That could prove problematic for Marin's water supply, which largely relies on rainfall collected in reservoirs on the Mount Tamalpais watershed.

With the world losing the battle against global warming so far, experts are warning that humans need to follow nature's example: adapt or die.

That adaptation will be a major focus is remarkable in itself. Until the past couple of years, experts avoided talking about adjusting to global warming for fear of sounding fatalistic or causing countries to back off efforts to reduce emissions.

"It's something that's been neglected, hasn't been talked about and it's something the world will have to do," said Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. "Adaptation is going to be absolutely crucial for some societies."

To see how sea level rise might impact Marin and the Bay Area visit: www.bcdc.ca.gov/planning/climate_change/index_map.shtml

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact Mark Prado via e-mail at mprado@marinij.comni