Massachusetts Sea Walls Vulnerable to Budget Cuts – and Rising Oceans

Written by Lisa Hayden on . Posted in Learn

With Japan still reeling from a deadly and damaging tsunami three weeks ago, the topics of disaster preparedness and coastal protection are top of mind.

The Boston Globe continued its series yesterday about the effects of rising seas on the Northeast U.S., where studies have indicated changes in ocean circulation could result in an additional foot of sea level rise (above global averages) along the New England coast by century’s end.

Those estimates of potential sea level rise vary depending on the pace of melting ice sheets and warming oceans, but consensus from recent studies is building around a global average increase of two to three feet.

Meanwhile, amid state and municipal budget cuts, many coastal communities are facing costly repairs needed to maintain their coastal defenses and avoid extensive damage from a major storm surge. Check out the Globe’s exhaustive listing of the condition of Massachusetts’ aging sea walls, based on a 2009 state review that estimated $600 million in needed repairs.

The Nature Conservancy is a proponent of “non-structural” flood control systems, such as planned use of natural resources like wetlands to absorb flood surges, where these strategies make sense.  But clearly, sea walls and levees will still be needed in some places.

Instead of viewing preparations for climate change as a negative drag on the economy, it could be argued that climate-smart planning for conservation and development could help to reinvigorate the economy, while protecting people, places and property.

Failure to prepare for climate changes like sea level rise may result in higher costs from damages to property from storms and flooding, and disruption in utilities and transportation systems.

But proactively investing in strategies that will improve our disaster preparedness and ability to withstand climate changes  (from restoring oyster reefs and conserving undeveloped coastal wetlands to buffer and protect communities from storms to fixing our ailing infrastructure – whether sea walls or bridges in need of repair) might actually create jobs and stimulate both traditional and new sectors of the economy. Not to mention the potential for new jobs in clean energy technology and transportation, such as high speed rail.

Stay tuned to Planet Change to learn more about The Nature Conservancy’s work to boost the health and resilience of our coastlines to climate change.

Lisa Hayden is climate change writer for The Nature Conservancy

Photo by: Flickr® user photoholic1 (On the rock sea wall, Rockport, MA, 2008) Used under a Creative Commons license.

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Planet Change is a Nature Conservancy blog site designed to share stories about actions the Conservancy and others around the world are taking to fight carbon pollution and the impacts of climate change, and to help people feel the connections between climate change and their daily lives and understand actions they can take.

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