http://www.cleanenergy.org/coastal-impacts/

SACE | Southern Alliance for Clean Energy

Coastal Impacts

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Overview Description

Rising seas, shoreline erosion, stronger and more frequent storms, saltwater intrusion, and loss of ecosystems and community resources are all devastating impacts of global warming that threaten our treasured coastal places. With over 2,000 miles of beautiful Southeast U.S. shoreline at risk along with valuable national infrastructure and important cultural resources, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) has taken a leadership role in educating citizenry and elected officials about the dangers and opportunities that lie ahead.
SACE hosts the Southeast Coastal Climate Network and the Florida Climate Alliance- a unified regional voice advocating for meaningful solutions to global warming.

The Southeast region of the United States is one of the most vulnerable locations in the world to the impacts of global warming. The Southeast’s coastline is also one of the region’s most impressive and attractive features. Stretching more than 2,000 miles, the Southeast Atlantic shoreline is home to more than 16 million people and contains more than $2.2 trillion in property. This coastal region contains infrastructure of significant importance to the functionality of our country such as ports, military bases, and bridges. In addition, there are irreplaceable historic landmarks dating back to Revolutionary and Civil War eras. This region’s high susceptibility to sea level rise and all of the associated devastating impacts (erosion, flooding, higher storm surges, loss of property, ecosystems, and community resources, etc.) make coastal communities an important target for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy’s outreach.

In the spring of 2007, SACE helped facilitate the creation of the Southeast Coastal Climate Network (SECCN) and the Florida Climate Alliance (FCA) to foster regional leadership in mitigating and adapting to the challenges and opportunities associated with global warming. In just one year, the Network and the Alliance have grown to 48 groups representing tens of thousands of concerned coastal citizens from Maryland to Louisiana. Members of both the SECCN and the FCA have invested considerable time and effort in educating a strong constituency base on the impacts of global warming as well as building support for strong national action to reduce global warming pollution.

Speaking Out

Raising the accountability level of decision makers in the region to address global warming is one of the most important goals of both the SECCN and the FCA. One of the most effective ways to influence a legislator is to make a personal visit and articulate the concerns surrounding the future of our coastal treasured places and to address the available opportunities to become part of the solution. The SECCN and the FCA have developed tools to help citizens and organizations request and implement productive meetings with their coastal representatives.

Watch Our Videos

On behalf of the SECCN and the FCA, SACE has developed a variety of educational resources for educating both coastal citizens and decision makers about the challenges and opportunities posed by global warming. SACE has developed a three-part documentary series called Treasured Places in Peril that highlights global warming impacts in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida. In 2008, SACE partnered with Architecture 2030 to develop animated Google Earth videos that graphically depict projected sea level rise impacts to coastal neighborhoods in Florida and South Carolina.

Impacts

“Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and risking global mean seal level.”
-The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007

The impacts of global warming are too numerous to fully summarize in this section, but in general the following categories of risk apply to the coastline; Sea Level Rise, Rising Temperatures, Severe and Extreme Weather, Changes in Precipitation Patterns, and Ocean Acidification. Residents in coastal communities like Savannah, Tampa, Charleston, and Wilmington will be among the first to feel the impacts of global warming in America.

Rising Seas

Leading scientists estimate between a two and five foot sea level rise by the end of the century, possibly more and possibly sooner depending on pollution levels and the rate of melting of both Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. Even a one-foot rise in sea level could flood coastlines up to a half-mile inland, drastically altering the landscape and way of life for many coastal inhabitants. In addition to coastal flooding will come significantly stronger storm surges essentially rendering many coastal communities unlivable.

Sea levels are rising now all along the Southeast coast and will continue to into the future. Most places along the Southeast have already seen a one-foot rise in sea level over the past 100 years, and scientists warn that the rate of rise will significantly increase as unprecedented melting rates of polar ice caps is observed.

Be sure to view our videos that address the impacts and opportunities associated with sea level rise.

Rising Temperatures

Over the past century, human produced global warming pollution has driven up global average temperatures by about 0.75°C. If we do not significantly and drastically reduce pollution, global temperatures are estimated to increase by about 4°C (7.2°F) with the potential to increase as much as 7°C (12.6°F) or higher.

Rising temperatures has enormous implications for the health and vitality of people, plants, and animals. Temperature increases can cause an increase in invasive species. These will pose significant risks to biodiversity, agricultural, and native ecosystems. Tropical born diseases are expected to be on the rise as warmer temperatures encourage the migration of dengue fever and malaria. This could put undesired stress on our medical systems and health care providers. Lastly with warmer air temperatures comes a reduction of air quality. More ozone and smog can lead to an increase in health issues in the elderly and asthmatic populations.

Severe and Extreme Temperature

Global warming is a complex issue. No single weather event can be directly linked to global warming, however, the weather patterns we’ve recently observed are consistent with what scientists predicted would happen as a result of global warming. Warmer air and ocean temperatures fuel stronger storms and hurricanes. The 2004 & 2005 hurricane season were among most active and destructive in recorded human history, resulting in billions of dollars in damages and significant loss of life. Increases in storm intensity and frequency result in increases in storm surges and localized flooding. These in turn cause potentially irreversible damage to coastal property and infrastructure (medical, communications, transportation, ports, and energy systems). More occurances of extreme weather events are driving up insurance rates as insurance companies see record losses related to hurricanes, snow storms, floods, and forest fires. Higher insurance rates are affecting the pocketbooks of all Southeastern coastal homeowners and the problem is not going to be fixed until we have a stabilized climate.

Changes in Precipitation Patterns

As seen throughout Earth’s history changing temperatures induce shifts in both weather and precipitation patterns around the globe. These changes can very difficult to predict but none-the-less create major upsets in local environments and communities. In general, warmer air can hold more water, which changes rainfall patterns.

Increases in rainfall can in fact be more of a curse than a blessing as flooding not only damages property, but also increases the amount of runoff into our waterways, and serves as a breeding ground for mosquitoes and other disease-carrying insects. Runoff can contain all sorts of pollutants that can seep their way into our drinking water supplies and can harm our natural ecosystems. Too much rain can also strip soil of essential nutrients needed for productive agricultural lands.

The lack of precipitation can be equally as dangerous. Farmlands and ecosystems that are dependent upon natural rainfall will suffer as will our freshwater supplies for drinking and irrigation.

Ocean Acidification and Coral Bleaching

Not all of the pollution we put into our atmosphere causes global warming. Some of our carbon dioxide pollution is absorbed by plants and trees, which use the gas to make food through photosynthesis. Our oceans absorb about one third of the carbon dioxide pollution we put into our atmosphere. At first, scientists thought that the oceans could provide a protective buffer as they absorbed global warming pollution. Unfortunately, we learned that all of the extra carbon dioxide is upsetting the natural chemical balance of our oceans.

When carbon dioxide dissolves into water it creates carbonic acid, which lowers the pH level of our oceans. Many sea creatures are made of calcium carbonate, or seashells, this substance is eroded away as our oceans become more acidic – similar to the way that soda can eat away at the enamel on your teeth. Scientists have observed a startling decrease in global average pH levels. This process, known as ocean acidification, will have major impacts on all of the animals in the oceans that have seashells, including very tiny snails at the base of the food chain, which are a popular food item for all of the other ecosystems. This may seem inconsequential at first, but consider that over 1 billion people on this planet survive by eating fish as their primary food source. That means that one out of every six people on earth are threatened by ocean acidification. It will also have devastating consequences on our commercial and recreational fishing industries right here in the Southeast.

Additionally, global warming is also harming our oceans because it is heating up our tropical waters to levels that are unhealthy for coral reefs. This causes a phenomenon known as coral bleaching. Scientists at the IPCC predict that with 1-2degrees C of warming the majority of our coral reefs will be lost to coral bleaching.

Solutions

“Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely [with 91 – 95% certainty] due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.”
-The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007

Since humans are the cause, we must be the solution. We must utilize our creativity in developing clean energy solutions to significantly reduce global warming pollution in our atmosphere.

Dirty power plants are the largest source of global warming pollution. Those in the Southeast contribute nearly one quarter of carbon dioxide released from power plants throughout the entire country. If considered a country, the eight Southeast states (Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and North Carolina) would rank 5th in the world, ahead of Germany, for our contribution to global warming pollution.

While the Southeast has so much to lose as we move into a warmer world, they also have the most to gain. Energy efficiency must be the first fuel of choice because it is the quickest and cheapest way to meet our energy needs. By making our homes, businesses, and industries more energy efficient, we will not only cut pollution but also save money. We must also rely on clean renewable energy resources such as wind, solar, and certain types of biomass.

Check out the following links to see what SACE is doing to move our country toward a clean energy future.
Wind Energy
BioMass
Solar
Stop Offshore Oil Drilling

What SACE is doing?

SACE hosts the SOUTHEAST COASTAL CLIMATE NETWORK (SECCN), click here to learn more and get involved!
The FLORIDA CLIMATE ALLIANCE (FCA) is a subset of the SECCN working on climate and energy issues in Florida. Click here to learn more and get involved!

Related SACE Content

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Global Warming in the Southeast
Alabama Global Warming
Florida Global Warming
Global Warming Pollution in Florida
Georgia Global Warming
Global Warming Pollution in Georgia
Mississippi Global Warming
North Carolina Global Warming
Global Warming Pollution in North Carolina
South Carolina Global Warming
Tennessee Global Warming
Global Warming Pollution in Tennessee
Nuclear Power and Global Warming
SACE Climate Principles