Monday, February 21, 2011


(Photo - Manhattan, New York., courtesy of Smart Planet)

The Earth Policy Institute reported that "The leaders of Tuvalua tiny island country in the Pacific Ocean midway between Hawaii and Australiahave conceded defeat in their battle with the rising sea, announcing that they will abandon their homeland. After being rebuffed by Australia, the Tuvaluans asked New Zealand to accept its 11,000 citizens, but it has not agreed to do so. "

This is a dramatic example of policy in response to rising sea levels and their future impact on the worlds coastal zones. In other places the discussion is much more subtle yet still important.

For example, there is a new report by the North Carolina Coastal Resources Commission.

The report, " ... details an expected range of relative sea level rise of 15 to 55 inches above the current sea level by the end of the century. ... the panel recommended that the state adopt a 1-meter (3.28 feet) rise of sea level by 2100 as a benchmark for planning purposes. Sea level rise is expected to accelerate over the next century, and the 1-meter benchmark is roughly three times the current rate of sea level rise."

This report represents just one of many examples of concern by coastal policymakers of how to address the issue of sea level rises. Interestingly, around the world the most successful planning has come when the issue of the CAUSES of sea level rises is largely ignored (i.e. natural cycle vs. caused by human activity.)

We find that very interesting. By ignoring the causes policymakers can circumvent the explosive debate that would immediately ensue between those who believe that human activity is largely to blame vs those who may accept sea level rises. These can be measured by any monkey who observes the wrack zone of a beach can observe higher sea levels - Wrack line is part of the shore just above the mean high tide line where kelp and other marine debris is deposited on the sand.

North Carolina would be the first US state to develop an explicit coastal planning policy based on sea level rises. This has caused a lively debate and concern by many coastal interests.

The Division Coastal Management has begun meeting with counties about the draft policy. Tancred Miller, a coastal policy analyst with the N.C. Division of Coastal Management.

"Miller said they are very early in the process and revisions are likely as input is received. The draft will be reviewed during the Coastal Resources Commission meeting to be held Wednesday and Thursday in Beaufort.

The first draft was enough to elicit the concern of Carteret County leaders, who were the first to meet with Coastal Management about the draft. Following that meeting, Board of Commissioners Chairman Doug Harris sent a letter to all the other coastal counties in the state to make them aware of concerns they have. Such a policy, the letter said, would be used as a “springboard” for future regulations and would have implications on both private development and public infrastructure.

“The implications of this proposal in terms of its geographic scope and potentially detrimental economic impact are enormous,” Harris states in the letter. “This is perhaps the most important and pervasive piece of policy the CRC has considered in a very long time, and I’m respectfully requesting your attention to this matter, and ultimately your support in repudiating the proposal altogether.”

In a phone interview, Harris said there are concerns about the 1-meter benchmark and some of the date being used to develop the policy. Predicting sea level rise is uncertain, and the letter questions the validity of the 1-meter prediction for sea level rise.

“A 1-meter sea level rise is almost three times the existing rate and will cover square miles upon square miles of tax base, infrastructure and natural resources in just about every CAMA county,” the letter states. “Again, we believe codifying this prediction is cavalier with very little thought to how it will impact the livelihoods of citizens and the economic fortunes of the coast — development, tourism, tax bases, infrastructure, military operations and more.”

So, as you can see discovering and predicting a rise in sea levels is one thing. Acting upon it by forcing coastal communities to design their development and construction policies around a series of regulations that anticipate these rises in sea level is quite another.

This issue is a pressing problem for coastal zones around the world because, as the Earth Policy Institute reports, "low-lying coastal countries are ... threatened by rising sea level. In 2000 the World Bank published a map showing that a 1-meter rise in sea level would inundate half of Bangladesh's riceland. With a rise in sea level of up to 1 meter forecast for this century, Bangladeshis would be forced to migrate not by the thousands but by the millions. In a country with 134 million peoplealready one of the most densely populated on the earththis would be a traumatic experience. Where will these climate refugees go? "

The challenge for international and US coastal zone policy makers is to devise a successful, sound, sustainable, nonthreatening, and economically realistic strategy for incorporating scientific findings about seal level rises into coastal policies that can be sold to the coastal stakeholders. Without the items in bold it will be very difficult to implement such policies.

* North Carolina quotes are from

1 comment:

george_formerly_of _the jungle said...

Geoengineering won't stop rapid sea level rise and the increasingly intense Atlantic hurricanes that will happen as the Atlantic warms.

People can vote however they please on this poll but the ocean doesn't care.