California town preparing for sea level rise

  • World
  • Sunday, 08 Dec 2019

A SPECIAL committee of California lawmakers gathered Tuesday in the seaside city of Encinitas to discuss sea-level rise and what needs to be done to protect coastal communities from devastating loss.

Flood projections keep getting worse, critical roads and infrastructure are mere feet from toppling into the sea, cities up and down the coast are paralysed by the difficult choices ahead – the reality check was bleak as scientists and local leaders shared what they’re up against with the Assembly’s Select Committee on Sea Level Rise and the California Economy.

The rising sea might feel like a slow-moving disaster, they said, but this is a social, economic and environmental catastrophe that the state cannot afford to ignore. By the end of this century, the sea could rise almost 3m in California – possibly more if the great ice sheets collapse sooner than expected under the weight of climate change.

“We know the sea is rising. This is not something that’s out there in the future, it’s happening now,” said Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath, who had requested to revive and chair this committee.

“How do we preserve what’s wonderful about our coastline, but really face the realities of the next 100 years with sea level rise?”

The committee reconvenes at a time when world leaders gather at the United Nations Climate Change conference in Madrid for yet another bargaining session over how to stop the planet from overheating.

And more Californians – overwhelmed by swings of drought, then fires, then atmospheric river storms – are waking up to the looming disaster on the shore. More than US$150bil (RM624bil) in property could be at risk of flooding by 2100 – the economic damage far more devastating than the state’s worst earthquakes and wildfires. Salt marshes, home to shorebirds and endangered species, face extinction.

In Southern California alone, two-thirds of beaches could vanish and coastal cliffs could erode almost 40m farther inland, according to recent studies by the US Geological Survey.

How much worse this all gets depends on how much Californians and the rest of the world can curb carbon emissions. The ocean, after all, is absorbing most of this heat.

“First and foremost, when we think about how to deal with sea level rise – we must think about how to deal with emissions, and how to keep that curve as low as possible moving forward,” said Mark Merrifield, director of the Scripps’ Center for Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation. “We face a few different scenarios in the future, depending on how bad it actually gets.”

The select committee was formed in 2013 by then-Assemblyman Richard Gordon. Members met for a year and studied the effects of sea level rise on agriculture, tourism, fishing and critical infrastructure.

The severity of impacts will be linked to how quickly action is taken, the report said. – Los Angeles Times/Tribune News Service
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