Climate change is a fast-growing and unavoidable threat to the planet; with the global temperature rising on average by 0.8◦C in the last 100 years1, the severe warming of the earth is responsible for the critical, and soon-to-be irreversible changes to our environment. These harsh effects of the increasing temperatures are most intensely experienced in coastal regions – rising sea levels not only erode the shoreline but are responsible for more volatile and dangerous weather conditions.
As more and more fossil fuels are burnt, the resulting carbon emissions pollute the atmosphere with more greenhouse gases than the planet can accommodate. Heat from the sun, instead of escaping the atmosphere, is trapped by these gases and in turn warms the earth. The most immediate and noticeable effect of the increased temperature is the melting of the ice caps which contribute to higher sea-levels (a predicted increase of two metres within the next 100 years) and thereby diminish coastal regions. As the coast gradually decreases, the probability of powerful storms and inundations rises, the worst of which will be experienced in coastal cities.
Floods are worsened by land which is already drought-stricken; as temperatures rise, more water evaporates from the soil, impeding its ability to absorb water. Thus, when met by flood waters, there is little to slow the water from moving farther inland. Whilst current wave heights may seem benign, without intervention this figure could increase to as much as 100 metres, causing massive damage to structures along the coast.
These threats motivate the implementation of measures to reduce, or at least slow, the effects of climate change on urban areas along the coast. Unfortunately, scientists have proven these to be more damaging to the environment than helpful. Protective structures such as seawalls and jetties accelerate beach erosion – fast waves rebound from these structures with a larger force than that of regular beaches and consequently wash larger amounts of sand away. Development along the coast, coupled with these protective structures further inhibits the abilities of natural systems to respond and adapt to these changes in the climate.
The drastic and punishing effects that our modern society has on our planet are worsening, with coastal areas receiving the most extreme effects first. Longer, warmer summers and reduced rainfall are not conducive to a healthy ecosystem and therefore, it is with great urgency that everyone helps to revert the damage already done. For more information on how you can reduce your impact on climate change visit this great, and illuminating website.