As many as 131 New Jersey coastal communities could be flooded every other week by the end of the century. The Union of Concerned Scientists warns of that worst case scenario should sea levels keep rising. Correspondent Lyndsay Christian spoke with one of the report’s authors, climate scientist Kristina Dahl.
Christian: Hi Kristy, thanks for joining us.
Dahl: Thank you so much for having me.
Christian: You’re welcome. So the Union of Concerned Scientists conducted a study which is very interesting which concluded that New Jersey is the second most vulnerable state to suffer chronic flooding as it relates to sea rise level. How was that concluded, Kristy?
Dahl: Well, we conducted a study of all the lower 48 states and looked at all of the coastal communities in each of the coastal states and what we found is that New Jersey, because it has a long coastline and so many towns along the coast, it really has a lot of communities that could be affected by sea level rise in the future. By the end of the century if sea level rise happens at a relatively rapid rate, you can see on the order of 130 communities in New Jersey affected by chronic flooding.
Christian: Well, you say by the end of the century, but we are looking at short-term. The study concludes 21 communities will experience it by 2035 — that’s about 18 years from now — so how can towns prevent this if at all?
Dahl: You’re right, there are a lot of communities that will start to see this chronic flooding in just the next 20 years or so. And so for those communities that are facing this very near-term chronic flooding, we need to start thinking about the way we’re living along the coast. And that could include making some adaptations like defending the coast using sea walls, accommodating the rising tides by allowing more open space so that when the tide does come up there’s space for the water to flow in the community that’s not blocked by houses and things that are going to have economic impacts when they flood. But, we also need to start thinking about whether these are places that we can sustainably live in the future.
Christian: Kristy, do you think that due to the sustainability and possibly preventative measures that could happen, or could take place now to possibly prevent it in the next 18 years, would these communities be habitable or inhabitable? Will residents have to move out?
Dahl: That’s really the key question, and ultimately we wanted to do this study so that communities could better understand the risks that they face, both in the near term and in the long term. Now in terms of how much sea level is going to rise in the next 20 years or so, that’s fairly well set by our past greenhouse gas emissions. So, between now and the middle of the century, there’s not much that we can do to prevent this kind of sea level rise. Now, when we start looking farther out in the second half of the century, that’s when the twists that we are making today about our carbon emissions really start to play out and you can see a lot of these communities avoid this chronic flooding if we work quickly to drastically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
Christian: That was a great segue into what I was just about to ask and that’s how it relates to global efforts and climate change. Can you speak a little bit more to that as it relates to sea level rise?
Dahl: Absolutely, so we had all known that President Trump begun the process of withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Agreement. It’s important to keep in mind that that’s a global agreement that will extend far beyond the U.S. borders and far beyond the time of the Trump administration. So, we’re very encouraged to see just how many countries are still committed to the Paris Agreement, as well as how many states within our own country, and our cities have pledged their support to the Paris Agreement. But when we look at the widespread nature of the chronic flooding issues that those coastal communities are going to be facing really in the near-term, these results really call for a strong, federal role in coordinating protection for our coastal communities. So, withdrawing from the Paris Agreement is a sign that the commitment isn’t there.
Christian: Thank you Kristy for sharing that. We wanted to know specifically how this relates to the global perspective and, as you just honed in on, the U.S. perspective. So, can you just tell me specifically what the study concludes in closing?
Dahl: Sure. So we found that by the end of the century, about half of all oceanfront communities in the U.S. could be experiencing chronic flooding, meaning that they would be flooded every other week on average and that flooding would extend for 10 percent of their land area or more.
Christian: Kristy thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it and thank you for the study that you have conducted.
Dahl: Thank you so much for having me.