Addressing climate change in your own back yard

Author:  Kate Gooderham
Much has been said about recent responses to the issue of climate change, so there’s no need to add to that conversation. However, coastal professionals and residents understand that, ultimately, sea level change and other consequences of a warming climate are not political realities, but scientific ones.

gardenMore important, they are personal realities… and doing something in response to climate change, finally, comes down to a personal response.

So what can you, as coastal dwellers and advocates, do to counter sea level rise?

You certainly have heard the usual responses – lessen your carbon footprint, waste less, etc. – but there are issues and concerns unique to the coast that can best be addressed by those who live and work along our shores.

  • Support science, not emotion. Urge – demand, in fact – that your elected and appointed officials make decisions and plans based on facts rather than fears. Ask for the facts behind the feelings, be respectful of others’ opinions but concentrate on data, and urge that the community conversation be remain centered in reality, not rhetoric.
  • Look at your community’ unique vulnerabilities, and develop a plan to deal with them in a timely manner. Then implement that plan, rather than letting it sit on a shelf. If your community has not prepared a vulnerability study, make sure it does.
  • Look at your beach management practices for their responsiveness to altered sea level and other challenges and changes to coastal conditions. Also look for your community’s ability to respond to storm damage in a very timely manner… because, after a 100-year storm occurs your beach will be vulnerable to a lesser storm. Your coast needs a rapid-response plan to return to good enough health to withstand the next barrage.
  • Be aware of subtle changes in your coast. Some of the signs to look for are the floods that are becoming more regular and persistent, the changes in flora and fauna that might be precursors to larger problems ahead, the altered habitat both next to and beneath the waters.
  • Help your community develop a coastal resilience plan if one is not already in place. Help them update and refine it if the plan has already been done. And, finally, help them get it implemented.
  • Support sound building standards that elevate and strengthen structures to withstand winds and waves – and that can enable those structures to operate using fewer dwindling resources.
  • Review the zoning laws to make sure that they take into account building and/or rebuilding in vulnerable areas.
  • In those areas where properties are most vulnerable, have a clear and objective discussion about options and timeframes. Be timely and clear-eyed in your assessment, and don’t take any option off the table without a thorough review. Think about the three Rs: Reinforce, rebuild, retreat.
  • Look at what steps your community – and you and your businesses and your neighbors – are taking to lower greenhouse gas emissions and overall pollution sources impacting the coast and its waters (which are facing unprecedented challenges from all quarters). Use energy prudently (and from as green a source as you can get), and encourage reusing and repurposing rather than just rebuilding and replacing.
  • Repeat after me: “Wide beaches, high dunes, elevated structures.” Then make sure your community is working toward that mantra if it’s not there already.
  • Use every tool in your coastal toolbox to adapt to changing seas and coastal conditions – but use them wisely. Living shorelines must be able to move to be effective, hard structures must do no harm while they’re trying to stabilize a shoreline, engineering and science must take into account all users and all issues.
  • Expand your community’s planning horizon beyond the typical 10-15 years, at least when it comes to the coast. What could that shoreline look like in 50 years? Where will mean high tide hit in 100 years? What will coastal structures and infrastructure have to do to be functional within that timeframe – and can they?
  • Most of all, get involved and get educated. Climate and sea level change isn’t someone else’s problem – not when it’s happening right in your back yard (literally)!

That old phrase, “Think globally, act locally,” has never been more true. The impacts of climate change will be felt by each and every one of us – so that’s where the change in behaviors and beliefs need to come from if we’re going to lessen the scope and severity of that change to our lives and livelihoods.

Very few of us can have an impact on what happens in the halls of power here and around the globe. But we all can have a very real impact on what we do about it.