I didn’t see it when it originally aired back in March, but this video segment from LA’s PBS affiliate, KCET, does a really good job of explaining some of the issues behind adapting to sea-level rise in southern California:
I’ve added a new item in the “Pages” section of the site’s righthand navigation: Climate Change Impacts #1: Sea-level Rise. I plan to do more pages eventually, covering some of the biggest climate change issues I think Carpinteria will face in the coming years, especially the “big three” issues of sea-level rise, reduced availability of fresh water, and price spikes in food and fuel.
There’s a lot more detail on the page, including discussion of beach loss and the ways we might respond to it. I make the argument that defending against sea level rise by building dikes and seawalls is likely to be an expensive and problematic strategy, while a managed retreat, if we start early enough, could be relatively cheap and effective.
There was a good article in the LA Times last Sunday about an issue that is going to be really important in Carpinteria: Coastal cities prepare for rising sea levels. It talks about Newport Beach’s effort to develop an adaptation strategy for Balboa Island, the densely developed spit of land that separates Newport Harbor from the ocean.
The focus on adaptation is a marked shift for cities such as Newport Beach that just a few years ago had made few preparations for the effects of climate change or were focusing on reducing their carbon footprints. Even as the California Legislature passed a landmark law in 2006 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, few coastal cities had any plans to confront rising waters on their own shores.
“The state of preparedness was close to zero in terms of looking forward to climate change and what it’s going to bring,” said Susanne Moser, a social science researcher at the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University, who has surveyed coastal cities and counties about planning for rising sea levels. “Since then there’s been an explosion of interest on the local level.”
I mentioned the article during the “items raised by commissioners” section of last night’s Planning Commission meeting, along with mentioning some of the other adaptation resources I’ve been reading lately. In response, Jackie Campbell, the city’s Director of Community Development, talked about some of the activities that Carpinteria is already engaged in on climate change (membership in ICLEI, participation at SBCAG in setting greenhouse gas reduction targets). She also pointed out that the city’s budget is really tight these days in terms of being able to to pay for the kind of consulting services that other cities have used to pursue adaptation initiatives.
I pretty much expected that response, having corresponded with her already about the issue. I understand where she’s coming from, and don’t expect her to just drop everything and jump on the bandwagon. This is a marathon, not a sprint. There’s a long road ahead in terms of building awareness and support in Carpinteria before we’ll be ready to take the kinds of actions that effective adaptation will require.
It felt good to get the information out there, though. Now I need to keep the pressure on to make sure the right people are looking at it.
Update: Here are my comments from the March 7 meeting:
Archaeologists generally agree that one group of hunters migrated from northern Asia across the land bridge that connected Asia and North America through the region known as Beringia, slaughtering large mammals with spears and arrows fitted with characteristic stone tips known as Clovis points.
But a slowly growing body of evidence hints that a separate group of people, who originated perhaps in Japan, sailed along the coasts of both continents, traveling as far south as Tierra del Fuego and migrating as far inland as the glacial lakes of the Pacific Northwest.
The problem with proving it is that the ocean level was about 200 feet lower then. As sea levels have risen, they have inundated most of the coastal sites where the ancient seafarers may have lived.
To get around the problem, archaeologist Jon M. Erlandson of the University of Oregon and his colleagues studied caves on the Channel Islands that remained above the rising waters. They reported this week in the journal Science that they had discovered middens — garbage disposal areas — containing many bones and tools.
One of the important points to realize in planning for sea level rise is that the ocean’s level really isn’t constant, certainly not on geologic timescales. Even without human-induced climate change, the level of the ocean is constantly rising and falling, and does so by what feels like really large amounts from our short-lived human perspective.
The California Climate Adaptation Strategy talks about four and a half feet of sea level rise by 2100, and that much and more again in the century that follows, even if we get greenhouse gas emissions under control practically overnight (which seems unlikely), and even without including the effect of melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica (which seem likely to add to the total). I can imagine a Carpinteria that looks pretty much like the Carp of today with four and a half feet of sea level rise, and with a little more effort I can imagine ways of dealing with nine feet. But beyond that my mind starts to boggle.
But the ocean doesn’t care about my bogglement. It will have no problem at all with going on rising for centuries, or even millennia.
I’ve been concerned about climate change for a while now, but my anxiety kicked into high gear after Copenhagen. That was when I realized that global warming was really going to happen, and was going to be really bad.
The book is about a concept I hadn’t heard much about before: climate change adaptation. Most of what I’ve read in the past about climate change concerns mitigation: reducing greenhouse gas emissions to avoid warming. Mitigation is hugely important, of course, but especially now that climate change has started happening, and appears to be happening more quickly and more severely than many scientists previously projected, we also need to talk about adaptation.
Adaptation is about preparing for the effects of climate change. Unlike mitigation, which is a collective effort that succeeds or fails based on the sum of human actions across the entire globe, adaptation is inherently local. If we start early enough and do the right kinds of adaptation, we can reduce the amount of suffering we and our descendants experience in our local community. Adaptation feels real, and concrete, whereas mitigation can sometimes feel hopelessly abstract. Adaptation feels like actually doing something.
Besides Hertsgaard’s book, I’ve been getting a lot of useful information from the following:
The California Climate Adaptation Strategy (PDF) is a state report that was published in 2009. It describes the impacts Californians can expect to experience on a statewide level, along with guidelines for adaptation. It’s pretty general, but it’s a start.
The following passage caught my eye:
The most effective adaptation strategies relate to short and long-term decisions. Most of these decisions are the responsibility of local community planning entities. As a result, communities with General Plans and Local Coastal Plans should begin, when possible, to amend their plans to assess climate change impacts, identify areas most vulnerable to these impacts, and develop reasonable and rational risk reduction strategies using the CAS as guidance.
I don’t think Carpinteria is doing enough in this area. I’ve started talking to other Carpinterians about the issue, though. We’ll see where that goes.