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RISE: Climate Change and Coastal Communities

A seabird in San Francisco Bay. Photo: Claire Schoen Media

By Claire Schoen Media

Most of the great cities, the world over, are built along the water. So are many towns, hamlets, and villages. But sea level rise and extreme weather, both fueled by climate change, threaten to reclaim coastal lands and the communities that are built on them. The destruction of New York’s shoreline, in the wake of Super Storm Sandy, has made this all too clear.

The RISE series looks at this international issue through the lens of a single place: the San Francisco Bay and the 7 million people who live and work in cities that ring its shores. Moving beyond the headlines, RISE asks hard questions — and finds some interesting answers. (See the previous post “Paddling San Francisco Bay.”)

Producer Claire Schoen has been creating award-winning radio, film, video, and multimedia stories about the environment for over 25 years. Longer versions of the RISE stories are available as audio podcasts at searise.org/podcasts.

Story 1: Beside the Tide

Climate change. We talk about it as this big problem, up ahead of us, in our future. But climate change is already our problem. Record heat waves, record cold snaps, increasing storms, hurricanes, floods – and sea level rise. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Especially as icebergs continue to melt.

For coastal cities, the impacts can be devastating as roads, airports, sewage treatment plants, and hospitals are inundated. From Miami to Los Angeles, from the Pacific Islands to Bangladesh, how will this change our lives?

Story 2: Hard Choices

Across the globe, rising waters are lapping at our shores. While we must work to slow climate change, which is causing the seas to rise, it is now too late to roll it back altogether. So it is time to start adapting to the impacts that are now inevitable. The Pacific island nation of Tuvalu plans to evacuate its entire population to New Zealand. The Dutch are building higher and higher defenses against the North Sea.

How will other communities adapt to sea level rise and increasingly severe weather?

Story 3: Rooted at the Water’s Edge

Sea level rise. We hear about it more and more. It’s described as a looming disaster movie – in slow motion. Climate change is causing sea level rise and also creating bigger storms. For cities, towns, villages, and farms along the world’s coastlines this may mean a big change: families forced to move off their land, communities broken apart, a way of life erased like footprints on the beach.

Are we willing to face this reality? Steve Mello’s family doesn’t want to.

Story 4: Mortgaging the Future

When it comes to tackling tough problems, America is known for innovation and ingenuity. But there are some problems staring right at us, that we seem unwilling to face. Like sea level rise. We know the ice caps are melting: the Petermann Glacier in Greenland recently lost a chunk four times the size of Manhattan.

How will Americans handle sea level rise? We don’t know, yet. But we must start asking the questions.

Story 5: The Flood Next Time

Even if we were to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to a screeching halt, today, the impact of climate change on coastal communities will be severe; rising water levels, bigger storms, higher tides and waves, all hitting cities built along the water. We need to figure out how to adapt. In many spots around the world projects are underway to protect coastal regions. The tiny hamlet of Alivso has taken on this big task.

See more from the media project RISE: Climate Change and Coastal Communities.


  1. Anny
    April 9, 2013, 1:35 pm

    I have come to the conclusion that we all have a little blame global warming and its consequences and guilt even more politicians who do not slow down.


  2. chris thomas
    victoria bc
    April 2, 2013, 2:01 pm

    @Al. It’s bigger than that.
    Climate change used to be called Global Warming Theory and it’s still a hotly contested (in some circles) a theory. The scale of “Climate Change” promotion is bigger than the average person can understand or even visualize, this is because most people are just too busy making widgets and having a life to look into the theory discrepancies, so they default to acceptance allbeit with a tacit confusion or disagreement.
    The fact is, if you look beyond the pablum that is offered about “Climate Change” read: pre-processed official-positions on the raw data, you will find that the C.C. or the G.W. Theory model just doesn’t work anymore. It doesn’t explain the increase in bolides, volcanoes or even the change in the N.H. Jet stream.
    http://www.survivingthepoleshift.com for more details.
    Chris Thomas.

  3. oric
    March 31, 2013, 2:16 pm

    the only upside is D. C. underwater..hard to deny that when it happens

  4. Earthling
    March 31, 2013, 6:40 am

    Sea level rises and falls over millennia, with or without Glowbull warming, and humans decide to build cities next to water.
    Most buildings are good for 2 to 3 hundred years, apart from a few exceptional edifices, so when it’s time to move, make sure it’s farther uphill.

  5. gtb
    March 30, 2013, 8:07 pm

    The longer action on climate change is delayed, the more difficult and expensive it will be to mitigate the problem and the more deaths it will cause–currently 400,000 per year. http://clmtr.lt/cb/qzc0XD

  6. Ian Orchard (real name)
    Christchurch NZ
    March 30, 2013, 4:46 pm

    Pick nits if you will, “Al”, but guess what, the biosphere doesn’t care what politicians, bankers, scientists, protesters, or denialists say or think (or don’t think), it just responds to an increasing thermal blanket. CO2 in the atmosphere is rising, the pH in the oceans is dropping, Arctic sea ice is disappearing, methane is leaking from the melting permafrost, global temperatures (atmosphere AND oceanic) are creeping upward and the weather is becoming increasingly erratic. Cheap shots aren’t helping.

  7. FanEnough
    March 29, 2013, 2:57 pm

    It is time to consider large-scale pumping of ocean water into desalinization plants and subseuqent distribution to areas in need.
    It will be cost-effective. Pumping out can lower the oceans enough to make a difference in coastal damage and erosion, while systematically moving water strategically to areas where reduced water supplies are creating havoc with local economies.

  8. Al Bore
    March 29, 2013, 1:20 pm

    -Not one single IPCC warning says it “WILL” happen, only “might” happen and “could” happen….
    -Science will say comet hits are real but science will not say climate change is as real as a comet hit.
    -Science has agreed it is “real” and “could” cause a climate crisis for last 27 years of research.
    -Almost all research was into effects not causes.
    – Upon settlement of North America these poor little Polar Bears were indigenous to as far south as Minnesota but called the yellow bear (summer coat), but still the same bear.
    -Occupywallstreet does not even mention CO2 in its list of demands because of the bank-funded carbon trading stock markets ruled by corporations and politicians.
    -Science denied the dangers of their cancer causing chemicals and pesticides for decades.
    -Science is not a hall of truth and honesty, they are lab coat consultants.