A new documentary attempts to find the answer
Sea level rise will irrevocably change life near the San Francisco Bay. That’s the premise of RISE: Climate Change and Coastal Communities, a documentary that starts airing this week on KQED Public Radio. Producer Claire Schoen sets the stage on a personal note.
By Claire Schoen
“Mom, can you please can it with the climate change lecture – just for once,” my children complained. At ages 22 and 26, my politically correct, Berkeley-raised kids are well educated in all things scientific and political. But… “Enough already,” they cry.
And I confess that their complaint has some validity: I can bring up the topic of climate change in pretty much any conversation.
But really, what other topic is there?
I do care deeply about war, immigration and famine. But all of these are affected by climate change which is a major cause of increasing drought, which in turn will create more and more wars to be fought over less and less arable land, pushing greater numbers of people to become environmental migrants the world over. This is not science fiction. And it is not the future. It is happening right now and it is being meticulously measured. The scariest part is that scientific estimates and predictions of the rate and intensity of climate change continue to be proven too low. It’s all happening bigger and faster than the models have shown. And it will get worse if we don’t radically slow our greenhouse gas emissions worldwide and figure out how to adapt to the impacts of climate change that are already too late to halt.
This past year has certainly been an eye-opener in the U.S., with a record-breaking number of record-breaking weather events:
- The Mississippi and Missouri Rivers both experienced catastrophic floods this year, affecting cities and towns along both waterways. There were evacuations in Memphis. The Corps of Engineers was forced to breach levees on the Mississippi, intentionally flooding one area in order to save a more populated one.
- Chicago has experienced two intense storms classified as 100-year events – in the last three years.
- 14 states are experiencing one of the worst droughts in U.S. history. The entire state of Texas which is now in its 6th year of exceptional drought, has been designated a natural disaster area.
- Tropical storms in Vermont devastated inland towns.
Since when is Vermont located in the tropics?
While no specific weather event can be attributed to climate change, the pattern of increasingly extreme weather is exactly what climate scientists are predicting.
So what does this mean for those of us living around the lovely San Francisco Bay?
We have relentlessly filled in the edges of the Bay – 40% of it – transforming wetlands into real estate and then covering them with homes, shopping malls and industrial parks. Climate change threatens this land, once considered a 100-year flood plain, with flooding every 10 years, every year, perhaps every high tide, as rising sea levels and extreme rain, wind and waves come together to form a perfect storm – again and again.
Upon embarking on the RISE project, my first act was to print out sections of a map of the Bay coastline, provided on the Pacific Institute website. It identifies those areas that are part of the 100 year flood zone. Pieced together, the map covers an entire wall of my studio. I quickly pinpointed my house. Whew – I’m safe. But not really, as my bank, airport, highway, sewage system and the houses of many of my friends are situated in the flood zone. Truly we are all in this boat, together.
Will Travis, of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission provocatively suggests that what we need to build today are not houses, but campgrounds. Our stay at the edge of the rising tide is a temporary one. Yet, foolish animals that we are, we make big plans, instead, to develop entire new communities, the Redwood City Saltworks and Treasure Island, both sitting at sea level. Today’s sea level.
So, if not campgrounds, then what? The hard truth is that we don’t know what to do. But it’s time to come together to figure it out. To this end, I’m going to keep talking. Cause kids…it’s all about climate change.
Part 1 of RISE, entitled “Sounding the Waters,” airs on KQED 88.5 FM on Thursday, December 8, at 8 pm. Parts 2 and 3 air January 12 and February 9, respectively.