Rising Seas, Rising Ignorance

Tyler Newman, Contributing Writer

At its widest point, the town of Duck is only 3,700 feet wide. That’s right, less than a mile.

For many of those living on the ribbon-like Outer Banks of North Carolina, things are business as usual. The tourist season comes and goes, as do the storms that batter their often fragile coastline.

As someone who grew up barely 30 miles west from the iconic barrier islands, on the mainland, the Outer Banks has become a favored day-trip destination of mine for many years. I’m not the only one, either.

Every summer, thousands upon thousands of tourists, out-of-staters and locals descend upon the beaches and islands to revel in the sun-kissed shoreline and take in the warm waters of the Atlantic. The traffic is annoying, to say the least. However, what many of these tourists don’t know is that Duck, along with the entire Outer Banks, is slowly disappearing.

Why? Climate change.

A topic of controversial debate for decades, climate change has slowly started to make its way to the forefront of conversation among politicians, activists and citizens all over the nation.

However, simply talking about it isn’t enough.

The southeast United States is among one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to the crippling effects of climate change and its predictions which scientists are supporting in overwhelming numbers. From sea-level rise to more intense storms, the southeast is expected to be battered with numerous dilemmas as the years push forward.

The Outer Banks, over the next one hundred years, is predicted to suffer serious loss of land from sea-level rise and more frequent destruction from rapidly intensifying hurricanes.

Are we prepared? I honestly don’t think that we are.

Living along the southeast coast, both at home and at school, I’ve seen firsthand what some of the effects of climate change are already doing to the area. I’ve also seen the negligence and ignorance of many residents who live around me, not bothering to bat an eye or even look into the problem let alone educate themselves.

Besides living 30 miles inland from the Outer Banks, I’ve grown up less than an hour south of a major coastal metropolis, Norfolk, Virginia. Norfolk is the epicenter of a growing sea-level rise concern along the east coast, with the area poised to receive some of the most devastating and economically taxing impacts from climate change in the entire nation.

At a small inlet near the Chrysler Art Museum, just outside of downtown Norfolk, waters rise and flood streets anywhere from 200 to 300 hours a year. Before 2009, it was never flooded more than 100 hours. This is an alarming trend unfolding not just here but along the rest of the southeast coast as well.

Miami Beach suffers from daytime flooding and nearly 105 miles of road have been raised to combat it. With seas expected to rise 31-61 inches by 2100, things aren’t looking too bright for Miami-Dade County, one of the fastest growing regions in the country. Other cities such as New Orleans, Savannah, Charleston and Wilmington will all be feeling the effects of climate change over the next century.

The Obama administration saw the growing concern of climate change and sought to address the issue by cutting carbon pollution from power plants, raising the fuel economy standard, preserving forests and National Parks and signing the Paris Agreement.

Since then, current President Donald Trump has taken a different course. While I’m not here to bash any one figure, I respect the President of the United States but I don’t understand why he can’t simply see the facts behind climate change. It’s happening on his doorstep; Norfolk is only 147 miles southeast of Washington. Further down the coast, South Florida could one day be completely inundated by rising seas.

The hurricanes striking the US have grown more intense, strengthening rapidly and dumping more amounts of rainfall, take Sandy, Matthew, Harvey, and now possibly Irma for example. Matthew flooded parts of my area that had rarely seen water levels of that magnitude before, it plunged whole towns into disarray, some of which are still recovering today, yet the government doesn’t see the need to dispatch more aid.

Where do most of these hurricanes strike first? The southeast region, where the sea level is lowest. Where the rising seas threaten the most. South Florida, the Outer Banks, New Orleans, Hampton Roads, Wilmington, the list goes on.

Something needs to be done in Washington. Politicians need to wake up and realize that this isn’t a partisan issue. You should never put party before the planet. It’s taxing to comprehend what exactly makes it so difficult to admit climate change is unfolding right now? What will it take to get the new administration to take notice of what’s happening? Better yet, what will it take to get even normal citizens to notice? The vast majority of the slowly shrinking Outer Banks, including the town of Duck, belongs to Dare County, N.C., which voted in favor of Donald Trump in the 2016 election.

The irony almost seems too unreal. By the time Washington opens its eyes, it might just be too late. As a coastal resident, I truly hope it doesn’t reach that point.

The Earth can survive without humans. However, humans can’t survive without the Earth.

Maybe once Mar-a-Lago is under two feet of water, Mr. President will finally take action.