The ocean is going to be significantly higher than previously understood, according to the latest national assessment of sea level rise. Because of climate change polar regions are rapidly melting and causing sea levels to rise faster than was forecast in the assessment done just a few years ago. Alarmingly, the Trump administration has vowed to roll back President Obama’s climate agenda, particularly efforts to reduce pollution that causes climate change. What’s unclear is whether President Trump and his appointees will also roll back policies to address the impacts of climate change—like sea level rise.
Anyone living near the nation’s coastlines better hope not. The new assessment conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that oceans could rise as high as 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) by the end of the century. That’s a half meter higher than scientists thought possible just a few years ago. Along the East Coast of the United States, oceans will likely rise an additional 0.3 – 0.5 m (1.0 – 1.6 feet) due to ocean currents and other factors that make the Atlantic Ocean “pile up.” These new projections are unwelcome news given that between 4–13 million Americans could be inundated by just six feet of sea level rise.
If President Trump rolls back policies to prepare for sea level rise and other impacts of climate change, federal flood protection standards will almost certainly be on the chopping block. Under these standards, all federal agencies must ensure that public buildings or infrastructure built using federal funds are designed and sited with an additional margin of safety for flooding. Where it’s practical to do so, future sea level rise must also be taken into account. Retaining the standards will ensure that public housing, hospitals, schools, water treatment plants and other public facilities are built higher and on safer ground. Rescinding this order will lead to critical public facilities being built in harm’s way or in areas destined to go underwater. This is not only a waste of taxpayer dollars, but puts lives at risk as well.
President Trump is already trying to avoid dealing with the causes of climate change, but he cannot avoid dealing with the impacts of climate change. Floods are going to happen. Hurricanes are going to happen. And sea levels are already rising (faster than we thought, it turns out), increasing the likelihood of disasters along our coastlines.
President Trump infamously called climate change a hoax, but to people in Norfolk, Virginia, Miami Beach, Florida and all along our coasts, flooding, sea level rise, and the effects of climate change are all too real. As NOAA’s sea level rise assessment makes apparent, the nation needs policies like the federal flood protection standards if we’re going to be prepared for the impacts of climate change.