Editorial: Tides rising; time fading

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The waters are rising, of that there is no longer any doubt. No one can credibly argue any more that sea level rise — caused by human activity that has fueled global climate change — is a real, grave threat to life as we know it.

The only questions now are how bad will it be and when will we start to feel the devastating effects. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration provided new answers to those questions recently, and, as scientists have been warning for years, it is not a pretty picture.

The NOAA projects sea-level rise to increase in Rhode Island by 9 feet, 10 inches by 2100. Sure, in 2017, that seems like a long way off. But before dismissing concern because most alive today won’t be by the time 10 feet is reached, remember that it won’t happen all at once. It is a gradual process that is already impacting many areas, and will be devastating to coastlines everywhere in the very near future. In fact, just 1 foot of sea level rise will drastically alter the local landscape.

In Bristol, just that 1 foot will change the map. Poppasquash will be an island. Hundreds of homes will have to be moved or scrapped. Countless new bridges will have to be built as heavily traveled roads like Hope Street, Thames Street, Ferry Road and others are inundated.

It will be life-altering, and it will be expensive, requiring plans to be formulated now to prepare for the impending disaster. But, as Diane Williamson, Bristol’s Community Development Director, noted, finding the political will to spend money on a problem people cannot yet see with their own eyes is a major challenge.

“There are short-term needs and short-term requirements to address today, so it’s hard to make decisions on the future,” Ms. Williamson said.

Making matters worse is the small, yet vocal, minority that refuses to accept reality, perhaps due to ignorance, but more likely due to a selfish desire to pass a difficult — and expensive — problem on to the next generation.

At this point, anyone still hiding their heads in the sand and trying to argue against the reality of climate change has lost all credibility. That shortsighted lot belongs in the same category as Bigfoot hunters and 9/11 truthers. Fortunately, it’s a small group that simply refuses to acknowledge science. Unfortunately, the most ignorant among us tend to scream the loudest.

But we as a society need to tune out that noise and listen to those who actually know what they’re talking about — scientists and the municipal officials who will be critical in crafting a plan to deal with the coming catastrophe. Building codes, traffic patterns, zoning designations will all need to change to prepare for the rising tide. Property value projections — and the related tax implications — will need to be adjusted. The problems go on and on.

There is no stopping the ocean, so we must adapt to its will. And we must start now.

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Mike Rego

Mike Rego has worked at East Bay Newspapers since 2001, helping the company launch The Westport Shorelines. He soon after became a Sports Editor, spending the next 10-plus years in that role before taking over as editor of The East Providence Post in February of 2012. To contact Mike to submit information, suggest story ideas or photo opportunities, etc., email mrego@eastbaynewspapers.com.