For every political ostrich sticking his head in the sand about climate change, there’s a beachfront homeowner somewhere removing sand from an upstairs bedroom.
As an institution that looks out for the well-being of Mid-coast residents, we believe the time has come to move beyond the debate of yes-or-no on climate change and toward a strategy of adaptation.
Ignore it at your peril. It’s happening, and it’s too late to go back.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration agree climate change is occurring. In 2010, the National Research Council concluded climate change is “very likely caused by human activities and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems.”
NOAA said 2000 to 2010 was the warmest decade on record, and 2010 was tied with 2005 as the warmest year on record — until 2012 shattered that record.
What will happen in 2013 — and years from now — seems eminently predictable. Many places have experienced changes in rainfall — more intense rain here, extreme drought there — and frequent, severe heat waves. Oceans are warming and becoming more acidic, damaging fisheries considered key to our local economy. Global sea levels have risen 9 inches in the last 140 years and are expected to rise another 11⁄2 to 3 feet this century, making coastal storms and storm surges more frequent and destructive, threatening Maine homeowners with billions in lost equity.
It would be terrible if the people who now choose to ignore global warming as a government conspiracy need disaster relief when extreme weather destroys their property. Then again, that’s often what it takes to get people’s heads out of the sand.
Those of us in the real world — victims of Hurricane Sandy and the $15 billion in damage they suffered, for example — will embrace the challenge of climate change and occupy ourselves with what to do next. For officials at the local level, that means:
— Restoring natural storm surge buffers
— Building or repairing dikes, seawalls and other structures that protect property from erosion and storms
— Modifying building codes to enable structures to withstand higher water levels
— Expanding coastal setbacks and instituting “rolling easements” that enable wetlands and beaches to migrate inland
— Upgrading and redesigning culverts and stormwater systems
— Mapping coastal hazards and developing emergency response plans with regard to sea level rise.
At the federal level, the United States should continue to tighten fuel efficiency mandates, limit tar sands oil and coal-fired power plants, and keep up the successful market-based cap-and-trade system.
It also can stop subsidizing irresponsible waterfront development by canceling the National Flood Insurance Program, which incentivizes risky waterfront development and is in arrears after paying out billions to rebuild within flood zones.
Above all, we must continue to be guided by facts and science.
When the facts dictate a course of action, we strongly urge our readers — “God willin’ and the creek don’t rise” — to take appropriate action to protect their lives and property, and to persuade their elected officials to confront this emerging threat to our very survival.