Sea Level Rise: The Climate Crisis on Your Doorstep

Do you live in California? If yes, then I am betting you live somewhere in the west. And if you are in one of our largest cities, you are very likely facing one of the biggest threats to your life as you know it: sea level rise.

There is a new study out, and it doesn’t look good. In an article published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and reported by ThinkProgress, ice loss in Antarctica is destined to change the world coastlines dramatically. We are facing as much as a 10 foot sea level rise over the next 50 to 100 years.

According to this article, “While the WAIS [Western Antarctica Ice Sheet] contains enough ice to raise sea levels some 20 feet, the EAIS [Eastern Antarctica Ice Sheet] contains enough ice to ultimately raise sea levels 170 feet. Although a complete melting of the Antarctic ice sheet will take many centuries, the new study suggests devastating sea level rise in this century.”

Lead author Eric Rignot,  a senior project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told the AP that melting in east Antarctica “increases the risk of multiple meter (more than 10 feet) sea level rise over the next century or so.”

Six feet. That is all it takes and California loses large swaths of Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Santa Cruz, Monterey, Eureka, Crescent City… basically the entire coast, leading all the way up, beyond California and around the globe. Already, greater high tides are causing increased nuisance flooding, even when no notable weather events are present.

The ThinkProgress article goes on to say that while “between 1979 and 1990, Antarctica shed an average of 40 gigatons of ice mass annually” more recently “from 2009 to 2017, about 252 gigatons per year were lost.”

So there it is. The bad news. No way around this one. Not without radical changes in how we do things on this planet, starting right now.

What are we going to do? Who is solving this? What does a solution look like? How can Californians make this a priority NOW?

The Hoover Institute at Stanford University took up the policy conversation on how we need to respond to sea level rise at the city, county and state levels. This 65 page report articulates a multi-prong approach that relies on one of our core values: local decision-making and implementation.

Based on this body of work by the Hoover Institute, the California Coastal Commission put together the “Draft Residential Adaptation Policy Guidance”, a ‘how-to’ guide for local, city and county agencies outlining recommended responses to this unfolding crisis.

The first paragraph sets the tone: “This Guidance is advisory. It provides the Commission’s direction on how local governments can address sea level rise issues in Local Coastal Programs consistent with the Coastal Act. The guidance is not a regulatory document or legal standard of review for the actions that the Commission or local governments may take under the Coastal Act. Such actions are subject to the applicable requirements of the Coastal Act, the federal Coastal Zone Management Act, certified Local Coastal Programs, and other applicable laws and regulations as applied in the context of the evidence in the record for that action.”

The report goes on to articulate the science, the hazards we face, and the solutions and remediation to consider, providing a guiding light to local governments on solutions, in light of current laws, rules and regulations.

The ultimate causes of climate change and sea level rise will of course require global action and coordination. Nonetheless, it’s clear from reading these advisory documents that we Californians must lead this charge at the local level and provide solutions that can be utilized and emulated around the world. The California National Party champions local solutions to challenges and problems. We believe in getting solution-based decision-making as close to the problem as manageable. And the California Coastal Commission stands as an organization committed to doing just that.

The suggestions call on cities, towns and counties to take this on. And it calls for drastic action. To protect our coastal cities, we must spend the next 10 years taking real, painful, but necessary action. We must assure the continuing existence of San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles. Not to mention beaches and redwoods and other communities, large and small.

So here’s what you can do to begin. To start, find out what your community is doing to address sea level rise. Who is looking at this issue? What resources are they using? What can you do to keep this priority in the forefront?

If this is not your hot button issue, then take some time to at least see who in your area has this as their hot button issue. Make sure this is at least on someone’s radar and that there is real, tangible action around this issue. And if you can, do. Help that is. After all, you don’t want to be the one losing a home to a storm, or being flooded into crisis.

We are not a people to put our heads in the sand, hoping it somehow all works out. We are Californians. And we face our problems and we take thoughtful action based on science and best practices. Let’s get to it.

Robin M Powers
Inyo County Lead

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