Climate Change in Your Backyard

By Amy Huva
Often, people think they don’t need to worry about climate change, because it seems from watching the news that the worst of it will hit people in far away countries. While this is certainly true, the other bad news is that climate change is coming to your backyard too – sorry!
One of the continuing disasters climate change will be bringing our way is sea level rise, where not only will places like New Orleans go under water, but all the multi-million dollar waterfront property in the Hamptons will too. It really will affect everyone.

The Hamptons – beachfront going under water with only 0.3ft (9cm) of sea level rise (map from NOAA Geoplatform)

This raises a question that many governments are going to have to deal with over the next decade – if we know that sea level is rising and the rate at which it is rising (currently 3mm/yr), at what point does a flood plain or waterfront house become too expensive to reinsure?
Ahh, house insurance – now we’re talking everyday problems!
This is a very current issue for many Albertans, who found out in the wake of this summer’s climate super-charged flooding that they’re going to get bailed out by the Provincial Government this time around, but if they rebuild on the floodplain, there will be no bailout next time.
This is a very logical plan that comes with some very heart wrenching decisions. Climate change wasn’t considered when the cities we now live in were built, and we’re only just starting to incorporate thinking about climate change into our decision making processes.
But these are the decisions we’re going to have to make as the ice sheets keep melting. Where is my house located relative to sea level? Do I live on a flood plain? If the river rises, do I live on the downhill slope that might get washed away?
If the answer to any of those questions is yes, then we need to be asking ourselves – do I move? Can I move? Where can I move to? Climate refugees will not only be people from Pacific Island nations evacuating when their country goes under water. It will also be people from Richmond and Abbotsford moving off the floodplain of the Fraser River. It will be people from an increasingly arid and scorching hot South Western USA moving north to Oregon or Vancouver where it still rains.
This is the bad news – this is the reality we’ve created for ourselves that we will now need to try and live with. But here’s the good news – we know. That means we can pre-empt and plan for it. Most of us can afford it too.
Personally, we can find out what the projections are for our homes and start thinking about what action we’d like to take. Importantly, we can start thinking about those decisions before a flood, unusual king tide, or a storm surge creates a situation where we’re forced into making decisions post-disaster.
Politically, we can demand forward thinking leadership from our political representatives (they work for us after all). Simple things like not allowing development on flood plains, or only allowing it with flood proofing, and not allowing new long term infrastructure to be built within 1m of sea level.
Even better, we can minimise the impact of sea level rise by reducing our carbon emissions. The sooner we stop burning carbon, the less the seas will rise from being warmed by carbon emissions. This is what scientists mean when they talk about adapting to the unavoidable and avoiding the inadaptable.
One thing is certain though – climate change will affect all of us, regardless of where we live or how wealthy we are.