Bowdoin Panel: How Will Coastal Communities Deal With a Rising Sea?

Cameron Adams ’14, Professor Allen Springer and State Marine Geologist Peter Slovinsky

Interdisciplinary panel: Cameron Adams ’14, Government professor Allen Springer and State Marine Geologist Peter Slovinsky

Communities around the world are grappling with their shared future: Sea levels are rising and they must figure out how to protect themselves against the onslaught of water.

At an interdisciplinary panel held on campus recently, Associate Government and Legal Studies Professor Allen Springer, Marine Geologist Peter Slovinsky and earth and oceonographic major Cameron Adams ’14 came together to explore the global and local impacts and responses to sea level rise.

Springer focused on the question of adaptation versus mitigation in combating sea level rise. “It has been a real political issue that small island states have been focusing on mitigating the problem and resisting putting more emphasis on adaptation,” he said. “Bottom line is that the international community is 20 or so years late in the adaptation method and that is a potential problem going forward.”

Springer also spoke about the ongoing debate on what role the international community should play. He mentioned the Green Climate Fund, a United Nations-backed financial mechanism to raise $100 billion by 2020 from industrialized nations to help poor poor and vulnerable countries survive fiercer storms. But there has been much skepticism on whether the money will be there and whether its fundraising and action plans are too vague for countries to carry out commitments.

“Do we really want to do this within the framework of something like the global convention?” Springer said. “Or should we think of creative ways of breaking out of this, at least to me, frustrating bureaucratic-heavy process, and begin to forge new partnerships around pragmatic approaches that people are trying in different areas?”

Peter Slovinsky from the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry provided the audience with insights about how individual state are addressing the problem. He shared data from Maine to show how its sea levels have been increasing of late at the fastest rate in 5,000 years.

At the state level, the government has had an ongoing project called the Coastal Hazard Resiliency Tools Project, which has established collaborations among state, regional and local agencies to acquire data, tools and funds to create local-driven approaches to sea level rise and storm surges. The overall result is that individual municipalities have been devising singular approaches to combat the issue.

“Where I think it is most effective is on the local level,” Slovinsky said. “Our local communities feel the impact of storms and will be feeling the impact of sea level rise before we get everything figured out at the national and federal level.”

Senior Cam Adams elaborated on local level impacts and efforts by presenting a group project he completed for the class Introduction to Geographic Information Systems. Adams and his student team assessed the impact of climate change in the nearby towns of Bath, Bowdoinham and Topsham, and developed a model to predict where sea levels are likely to be in the future. They also worked with town planners, allowing them to further investigate and ponder the problem from economic and social perspectives.

“When we sat down to talk with the town planners, immediately what came to their minds were roads that will be inundated, property damages and economic losses,” Adams said. “While for us coming in we approached the issue from such a scientific perspective that it was very valuable to be able to look at this from another view.”

The panel ended with a general discussion that touched on climate refugees, the sinking country of Maldives, and the recent typhoon that killed thousands of Filipinos.

“Is Haiyan an indication of a new norm? Yes and no,” Slovinsky said. “Some may argue that we might be seeing fewer storms in the future, but when they do form, they might be much larger and more powerful.”

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