“We can prepare now and respond to the sea-level rise in a planned fashion, or we can act later in response to natural catastrophes (storms). Responding to the rising sea now will be painful, but ignoring the rising sea will produce catastrophic pain.” — Orrin Pilkey
Now that summer is officially here, many of us will undoubtedly be heading to the beach. However, as Orrin Pilkey points out in a recent op-ed in the Fayetteville Observer, many of our coastal areas are in serious danger. Ignoring these problems and continuing to develop these areas, Pilkey warns, will have serious and long-lasting consequences.
Pilkey is most recently the coauthor with Linda Pilkey-Jarvis, and Keith C. Pilkey of Retreat from a Rising Sea: Hard Choices in an Age of Climate Change, which examines a variety of coastal areas in danger. In his article for the Fayetteville Observer, “Why N.C. can’t ignore the rising sea,” he focuses on North Carolina’s failure to take any action at all:
In spite of these alarming suggestions, North Carolina has taken virtually no action or done any planning for response to the future sea-level rise. It’s fair to say, viewing the action of the Coastal Resources Commission and other environmental agencies, that the state’s coastal management program has crashed.
The science panel of the CRC was ordered to produce a report on the sea-level rise expected only for the next 30 years. Frank Gorham, CRC chairman, has written that the science panel itself chose that 30-year number, but that is incorrect. The 30-year time limit was a political decision forced upon the science panel to avoid comment on the post 30-year time frame when sea-level rise is expected to accelerate.
The short 30-year time span is out of sync with all other government entities concerned with sea-level rise in the U.S. and globally. By comparison, the UN’s climate change panel (IPCC) looks out 100 years, Holland plans out 200 years and has designed its storm gates for a 10,000-year storm (a bit of a stretch), and Germany looks out 500 years.
In the United States, North Carolina stands alone in doing basically nothing of consequence in sea-level rise planning and even discourages state employees from mentioning global climate change. New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia are planning, as well as taking baby steps, in an effort to start responding to sea-level rise. These states recognize the huge implications of the rising sea on developed shorelines.
Instead, the response of North Carolina has been to hold the shoreline in place at great cost and even encourage further development. The recent projected sea-level rise virtually dooms much of North Carolina’s beachfront development by this century’s end, especially the Outer Banks.
In even more danger from the rising sea is the northeastern corner of the state behind the Outer Banks. Here, the slope of the land is so gentle that a one-foot sea-level rise could push the water inland four miles or more.
In the conclusion to the article Pilkey suggests a series of steps of that can be taken to help protect the North Carolina coast:
Total prohibition of future high-rise construction near a beach.
In planning, recognize the huge cost of holding the state’s entire 120-mile-long developed shoreline in place, recognize that the beach will ultimately be lost and that the cost will increase exponentially as the sea rises.
Institute a policy of retreat from the shoreline. This could be carried out by prohibiting the rebuilding of destroyed houses after storms and by enforcing and amplifying the state’s original anti-hard structure regulations.
Do nothing to encourage more dense development on the islands, including the building of access bridges.
North Carolina citizens must try to get the state government’s head out of the sand and begin real planning for a possible maximum 3.5-to-6-foot sea-level rise by the year 2100. We can prepare now and respond to the sea-level rise in a planned fashion, or we can act later in response to natural catastrophes (storms). Responding to the rising sea now will be painful, but ignoring the rising sea will produce catastrophic pain.