Editorial: Tides rising, time fading

Posted 1/10/20

It made almost nobody’s list of top 2019 news stories, but in October, the non-profit Climate Central released a study showing that sea level rise is actually coming faster than worst-case …

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Editorial: Tides rising, time fading

Posted

It made almost nobody’s list of top 2019 news stories, but in October, the non-profit Climate Central released a study showing that sea level rise is actually coming faster than worst-case projections of just a few years ago. 

Maybe the story scarcely registered because we’ve become numb to the enormity of it all. And perhaps because it seems we’ve heard it all before — which, in fact, we have, again and again.

In 2018 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration stunned South Coast and Narragansett Bay residents with a forecast calling for sea-level rise to reach 9 feet, 10 inches by 2100. Just three years before that, the projection was for a rise of 6 to 7 feet; a few years earlier the prediction was for 4 to 5 feet. The heightening alarm has everything to do with the much faster-than-anticipated melting of the polar ice caps.

Hastily redrawn maps in 2018 illustrated the impact here. Barrier beaches in Westport and Little Compton will be overwhelmed, along with the coastal ponds they protect. Much of Sakonnet Point, Seapowet, Horseneck, Westport Point, Westport River, Head of Westport will be overwhelmed. Beloved beaches and waterfront homes will be but fond memories. 

Making matters worse is the small, yet vocal and powerful, minority that selfishly refuses to accept reality and seems more than content to let a future generation deal with this expensive and inconvenient reality. 

Overwhelming as all this seems, resist we must — waiting for Washington DC to wake up is a losing bet. As they seek to comprehend what is to come, groups are analyzing the local impact and organizing a defense. 

The South Coast Climate Change Coalition has brought experts together to identify places at particular risk and devise ways to diminish the harm. 

In Tiverton, the state has already begun moving marshes up and inland ahead of the tide — for it is in these threatened marshes that much of our sea life is reborn.

And in Little Compton, boards are working to imagine what it all means for building rules, water supplies (the town relies on mostly shallow wells for all of its drinking water) and evacuation routes.

We as a society need to tune out the noise and listen to those who actually know what they’re talking about — scientists and local experts and officials who will be critical in crafting plans and finding the money to deal with the coming catastrophe. Building codes, traffic patterns, drainage systems, zoning designations, property value projections will all need to change to prepare for the rising tide. The issues go on and on.

Much as we may wish otherwise, the ocean is rising and we must adapt to its will. And, for the sake of our grandchildren, we must start now.

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Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.