time running out

Image: Flooding on Highway 80 from Savannah to Tybee Island by Craig Davidenko of DroneMedia.com

Recurring floods on Route 80  from Savannah to Tybee Island provides evidence that sea-level rise is already taking its toll. As the climate continues to overheat, primarily due to the emission of greenhouse gases [GHGs] in burning and producing fossil fuels, sea-level rise and other impacts of climate change will get much worse.

A recent article in Science predicts that rising seas in the coming decades will flood more than 444,000 square miles globally, inhabited by some 375 million people. Many coastal Georgians live within low-lying communities that will be inundated.

So-called ‘nuisance flooding’ – which happens without any storms causing abnormal conditions such as storm surge – is occurring with increasing frequency. An example is the “King Tide” flooding Route 80, but such flooding has become common at normal high tide. According to NOAA, the rate of such flooding in the past decade has quadrupled since the late 1950’s.

Yet even when government officials recognize this added risk from rising sea-level, they rarely do more than react by elevating roads and other infrastructure, armoring shorelines, and taking similar steps to reduce flood damage – as if climate change was an unstoppable “act of God.” These efforts of climate-change “adaptation” are necessary, at least temporarily, but they alone are far from sufficient.

Seldom are public officials in Georgia willing to acknowledge, much less address, the causes of rising sea level by calling for policies that will reduce greenhouse gases. Yet, energy engineers have clearly demonstrated that by using current technology, we could reduce GHG emissions quickly [while creating well-paid jobs] if only there was enough political resolve to demand such transformational policies.

Moreover, scientists predict that unless such rapid emission-reduction steps are taken soon, humanity will suffer greatly – not only from rising seas and flooding, but from drought, damage to both marine areas and tidal wetlands, escalating wildfires, and severe threats to public health.

It must be noted that the U.S. Department of Defense has declared that climate change is an urgent priority as a threat to national security. Due to climate change, mass displacement of native populations and growing global conflicts over scarce resources are predicted.

Despite this, state and federal policies continue to favor continued use of fossil fuels. Federal subsidies for oil and gas producers are in the range of $50 billion annually, some six times the level of government support for clean energy [primarily solar and wind] that emit no GHGs.

Furthermore, recent studies by NOAA indicate that climate-change induced problems are accelerating and likely to continue doing so in the decades ahead. Accordingly, projected impacts frequently cited, such as sea-level rise, will be much worse than previously predicted.

Three responsible policies are initially needed:

  • Subsidies for fossil fuels must be eliminated, including export incentives.
  • Substantial government support for clean energy must be given top priority.
  • Approval of federally funded and/or regulated projects must include reduced GHG impacts.

The time available for preventing the worst consequences of climate change is rapidly dwindling. Our communities must support urgently needed transitional policies.

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Image: Flooding on Highway 80 from Savannah to Tybee Island by Craig Davidenko of DroneMedia.com.
David Kyler

David Kyler

David Kyler is the co-director of the Center for a Sustainable Coast, a non-profit membership organization he co-founded in 1997. The Center works to protect, preserve, and sustain the vital natural, cultural, and economic resources of coastal Georgia.

One of David’s deepest convictions, and a founding principle of the Center, is that environmental research, scientific information, and public involvement are urgently needed to improve decisions affecting the sustainability of natural systems. Accordingly, the Center’s slogan is “Advocating responsible decisions to sustain coastal Georgia’s environment and quality of life.”

To pursue the Center’s mission, Kyler gives priority to raising public awareness about issues affecting coastal Georgia at all levels – from local to state and national, to global. He frequently publishes letters and opinion columns in Georgia newspapers, often commenting on controversial issues that require improving the analysis and coordination of both economic and environmental considerations.

In the past three years alone, on behalf of the Center David has published close to one-hundred commentaries on a range of issues, including offshore drilling, protecting Cumberland Island National Seashore, risks of contamination by coal ash and other toxic materials, coastal development controls, and conflicts between environmental protection and economic development practices.

In the past decade, under Kyler’s influence, the Center has been one of the few Georgia non-profit organizations persistently voicing alarm about the global climate crisis and the urgent need to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. In 2018 and 2019 the Center hosted several public forums on climate issues in the Savannah area and collaborated with the Climate Reality Project in organizing a rally in Savannah, scheduled to be coordinated with the international Climate Strike.

Through his work with the Center, David is helping to redefine economic self-interest by incorporating the principles of sustainability in public policies governing both economic development and environmental protection. He is convinced that systemic analysis and life-cycle assessment, including thorough evaluation of economic and societal externalities, are essential to responsible environmental stewardship.

He holds degrees from Lehigh University (BS, Industrial Engineering) and Southern Illinois University (MS, Design Science), and has completed advanced studies in Resource Management and Policy at the State University of New York at Syracuse. Mr. Kyler has worked in environmental policy analysis, regional planning, and public-interest advocacy for over 40 years. He’s been a resident of Saint Simons Island since 1977 and grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.