We are becoming inured to coastal inundations and it looks like these awful disasters that take thousands of lives, flatten towns and villages, and cost countries millions and billions of dollars in aid to affected citizens for relocation and for rebuilding will become more frequent. Here we have the case of the Philippines, hit so hard by a typhoon that the entire infrastructure which would normally allow relief to inhabitants has been devastated to the extent that even basics like water and food are almost impossible to provide. There are no warehouses for safe storage. Residents, pushed by the desire to survive this natural disaster, are looting supplies, hoarding what they find and making it more difficult to provide in an equitable manner to all who were affected and survived. This must be very similar to what happened in Sri Lanka and almost like what happened in Japan. In these places the population had to leave the affected areas and this also was what occurred in New Orleans after Katrina and in New Jersey and Long Island after Sandy.
I am thinking that we almost have to accept that the level of water in our oceans is rising and we have to prepare for how this will affect our coastal populations and cities. I am speaking globally here. Losing so many people in each of these disasters leads to profound levels of global grief. We begin to think about apocalypse. We are a smart species, with big brains. We should be able to see the evidence in front of us and start to move people back from vulnerable coastal areas. If I lived near the ocean I wouldn’t want to leave my property and face the possibility, that without legal enforcement, others would eventually take my treasured spot. Governments, however, cannot afford to keep bailing out people who insist on living in harm’s way. Aren’t there ways to protect someone’s property ownership even though the property is considered uninhabitable at the moment? Will we compensate people when their land disappears under water or is above sea level only intermittently? I don’t think coastal residents can expect such recompense if the cause is climate change, something beyond human control at this point. Governments probably cannot afford to compensate everyone who owns beachside property for dwellings they have built there. Perhaps governments might be better served if they paid to relocate coastal residents and left beaches uninhabited. (OK, horribly unpopular – I can hear the outcry already.) Japan may not be able to rebuild the villages hit by the recent tsunami because of nuclear contamination for decades. Sri Lanka has recovered somewhat, but their build up was far less dense and homes there are less structurally complicated because they are more suited to the climate. New Orleans is still not back to normal after Katrina and towns affected by Sandy are nowhere near full recovery. If another giant storm hits any of these places any time soon rebuilding will probably become impossible.
So far the problems on our seacoasts seem to be when there are surges following huge storms. But we have to ask 1) are the storms we are seeing supersized, and 2) are the surges reaching farther inland than previous surges? I was reading about Norfolk, Virginia, an important port for military ships on the east coast. In Norfolk the water levels of the ocean and bay have risen several inches, but predictions say that the water level will probably rise by at least one meter (39 inches), which will change the entire configuration of the port. Climate deniers in Virginia do not believe these predictions and refuse to devise contingency plans. Here’s a case of a section of our coastline we can keep an eye on to see what actually happens. However, if we are concentrating on one small section of coastline, disaster will surely strike elsewhere. What if a major population center is involved as with New Orleans? Shouldn’t we be building Netherlands-style protections around our major coastal cities? Shouldn’t we begin now to take some action along our less populated beaches to create unoccupied flood zones so we will not have to lose any more people to unruly seas?