Since the height of the industrial revolution, humans have been emitting pollution at unprecedented rates. Pollutants known as “greenhouse gases” (GHGs) are absorbed by the Earth’s atmosphere and act like a “heating blanket.” The amount of GHGs in the Earth’s atmosphere is directly linked to how much, and how fast, the earth warms—and thus, how much our climate changes.
By Stefanie Sekich-Quinn
The world is already witnessing climate change impacts such as record-setting temperatures, catastrophic hurricanes, melting ice sheets and glaciers, flooding, drought, increased forest fires and other extreme weather. Climate change is predicted to bring more intense storms and increased sea levels.1 Our local coastlines are being impacted in several ways:
“The ocean is 30% more acidic than it was in 1750. Drastic changes in ocean chemistry are detrimental to marine life, including the impairment of crustaceans’ abilities to form protective shells.” Stefanie Sekich-Quinn
Photos Copyright 2018 Jeff Herrera
- Shrinking beaches: Scientists predict sea levels could rise up to six feet by 2100. An increase this large will swallow beaches—impacting public access, recreation, healthy ecosystems, and community infrastructure. In addition to sea level rise, increased storms will also chip away at our beaches. 2
- Pollution: More rain can result in sewage overflows and urban runoff cascading into the ocean. In addition, sea level rise and coastal inundation can overload and undermine wastewater infrastructure—causing malfunctions that result in more pollution.
- Ocean Acidification: Over 25% of carbon dioxide emitted by burning fossil fuels is absorbed by ocean water.3 As a result, high concentrations of carbon dioxide are causing the oceans to acidify at rapid rates. In fact, the ocean is 30% more acidic than it was in 1750.4 Drastic changes in ocean chemistry are detrimental to marine life, including the impairment of crustaceans’ abilities to form protective shells.
- Surfing and other recreation: Rising seas will contribute to extreme tides that will impact how waves break. In areas where the seafloor is sandy and flat (a beach break), the wave may break further inshore, thus changing the size and shape of the wave. In areas where the seafloor is uneven and rocky (a point break), higher sea levels will inundate the break, leaving less area for the wave to form and increasing the possibility that the wave might not break at all.5 In addition, ocean temperatures and ocean acidification are killing corals around the world; and in places where surfing is formed by coral reefs those surf spots will go away. Of course, diving experiences will certainly be impacted as reefs die and biodiversity is compromised.
- Damaged infrastructure: Sea level rise and increased storm activity will damage community infrastructure (homes, roads, municipal buildings, etc.). As communities become more aware of the impacts of climate change on their beaches, they may choose to employ reactionary response measures, such as building seawalls, which can greatly impact beaches, ecosystems and actually exacerbate erosion.
Just last week, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report concluding that drastic climate change impacts are now expected to occur much faster than previously predicted – as soon as 2040. Even if humans manage to keep the Earth’s temperature from increasing by 2 degrees C (the magic number assigned by scientists to avert dire consequences), major impacts will happen regardless. 6
While predictions about climate change are daunting, there are several actions we can all take to mitigate and adapt to climate change. For example, the Surfrider Foundation is encouraging local communities to support renewable energy efforts such as “Community Choice Energy” where citizens can dictate what type of energy they want to fuel their community—purposefully weaning off fossil fuels.
Other mitigation efforts include installing “Ocean Friendly Gardens” to trap greenhouse gases in the soil. In addition, we encourage local communities to improve coastal resiliency by restoring dunes and wetland—building a stronger buffer against storms and rising seas. However, one of the most effective measures communities can take is to proactively plan for sea level rise and extreme weather events by improving local land use plans, zoning regulations, and rebuilding standards. We no longer have the luxury of continuing to rebuild in areas that have repetitive flood and storm damage at the expense of nature and taxpayers.
Communities should also call upon their elected officials to implement meaningful climate change policies at the local and federal levels. For example, Surfrider has an action alert asking the Trump Administration to honor the Paris Agreement which aims to curb climate change. We also have an action alert urging elected officials to reform the National Flood Insurance Program so taxpayers are not spending money on rebuilding in harm’s way and communities are incentivized to rebuild in “climate-smart” ways.
Finally, there are many actions people can do on a personal level to curb climate change, such as to carpooling, using mass transit, walking or biking to destinations and buying a low carbon vehicle. In addition, people should limit or stop purchasing plastic—plastics are made from petroleum products (i.e. fossil fuels) and take a tremendous amount of energy to create and dispose of. It is estimated 29 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions result from the manufacturing and final disposal of plastic goods. Upgrade your light bulbs by replacing incandescent light bulbs with more efficient fluorescent or LED lights. Weatherproof your home to reduce drafts and air leaks by caulking, using insulation and weather stripping to save energy.
Another fun way people can help bring awareness to climate change is to ride a Smartfin. The Smartfin is a surfboard fin with sensors that measure multiple ocean parameters including temperature, location, and wave characteristics (and in the future, it will read pH levels related to ocean acidification). Using the data collected with Smartfin will help scientists to better understand trends in ocean warming, acidification and mobilize our communities to act and combat problems caused by climate change.
If we all work together and proactively plan ahead we can help avert climate change impacts and protect our wallets. According to the National Institute of Building Sciences, every dollar invested in preparedness and resiliency saves six dollars in costs down the road.7 We owe it to future generations to be proactive with climate change so they don’t suffer our consequences. The time to act is now!
- Environmental Protection Agency http://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/basics/facts.html
- The Physical Science Basis. Final Draft Underlying Scientific-Technical Assessment. http://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg1/
3 IPCC Climate Change Report https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/syr/AR5_SYR_FINAL_SPM.pdf
4 Science Daily: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/01/170127112942.htm
5 Climate Change May Flatten Surf Spots https://phys.org/news/2015-02-climate-flatten-famed-surfing.html
7 Pew Charitable Trust: https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/articles/2018/01/11/every-$1-invested-in-disaster-mitigation-saves-$6
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