Climate-change damage growing in Georgia, predicted to get much worse

As evidenced by recurring floods on Route 80 to Tybee Island, sea-level rise is already taking its toll. As the climate continues to overheat, primarily due to the emission of greenhouse gases [GHGs] in burning and producing fossil fuels, sea-level rise and other impacts of climate change will get much worse.

A recent article in Science predicts that rising seas in the coming decades will flood more than 444,000 square miles globally, inhabited by some 375 million people. Many coastal Georgians live within low-lying communities that will be inundated.

So-called ‘nuisance flooding’ – which happens without any storms causing abnormal conditions such as storm surge – is occurring with increasing frequency. An example is the “King Tide” flooding Route 80, but such flooding has become common at normal high tide. According to NOAA, the rate of such flooding in the past decade has quadrupled since the late 1950’s.

Yet even when government officials recognize this added risk from rising sea-level, they rarely do more than react by elevating roads and other infrastructure, armoring shorelines, and taking similar steps to reduce flood damage – as if climate change was an unstoppable Act of God. These efforts of climate-change “adaptation” are necessary, at least temporarily, but they alone are far from sufficient.

Seldom are public officials in Georgia willing to acknowledge, much less address, the causes of rising sea level by calling for policies that will reduce greenhouse gases. Yet, energy engineers have clearly demonstrated that by using current technology, we could reduce GHG emissions quickly [while creating well-paid jobs] if only there was enough political resolve to demand such transformational policies.

Moreover, scientists predict that unless such rapid emission-reduction steps are taken soon, humanity will suffer greatly – not only from rising seas and flooding, but from drought, damage to both marine areas and tidal wetlands, escalating wildfires, and severe threats to public health.

It must be noted that the U.S. Department of Defense has declared that climate change is an urgent priority as a threat to national security. Due to climate change, mass displacement of native populations and growing global conflicts over scarce resources are predicted.

Despite this, state and federal policies continue to favor continued use of fossil fuels. Federal subsidies for oil and gas producers are in the range of $50 billion annually, some six times the level of government support for clean energy [primarily solar and wind] that emit no GHGs.

Furthermore, recent studies by NOAA indicate that climate-change induced problems are accelerating and likely to continue doing so in the decades ahead. Accordingly, projected impacts frequently cited, such as sea-level rise, will be much worse than previously predicted.

Three responsible policies are initially needed:
  • Subsidies for fossil fuels must be eliminated, including export incentives.
  • Substantial government support for clean energy must be given top priority.
  • Approval of federally funded and/or regulated projects must include reduced GHG impacts.

The time available for preventing the worst consequences of climate change is rapidly dwindling. Our communities must support urgently needed transitional policies.

David Kyler, Executive Director
The Center for a Sustainable Coast
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