Commentary: sea changes: there's little time left to save coastal regions.

Author:Dodson, Edward J.

The debate over whether our global climate system is experiencing changes at an accelerated rate seems to be over, even if the extent to which human activity is a primary cause remains in dispute. Climatologists are not yet able to model the full scope of changes we will be experiencing; however, with even modest increases in sea levels will come the increased probability of destructive storms and flooding along the coastal regions of every continent.

Almost one-half of us live within a few hundred kilometers of a coastline, and many of the world's most densely populated regions are right on the coast. With little thought to the long-term consequences, we have established these enormous centers of population where the risk of disaster is ever-present.

It now seems clear that the engines of climate change will not be reversed or even slowed before we experience ever-worsening storms, rising tides and destruction of many cities and communities constructed at sea level. Evacuation of these low-lying regions around the globe or the construction of sophisticated flood prevention systems (as exist in the Netherlands) are not under serious consideration anywhere in the world.

What we need is what we do not have--time for debate, consensus-building, and citizen pressure on governments to act.

There is only one practical step that can be taken by governments around the globe, with direction from the scientific community. This is to determine where the additional water can be safely channeled to form inland seas where deserts now dominate the landscape, or where there are deep depressions capable to storing water that will otherwise flood our coasts. An immediate priority ought to be to develop computer models that identify the best locations and routes by which to channel water inland from the coasts.

I do not suggest this is an ideal course of action. However, after much consideration of the challenges we face and the high probability of coastal destruction over the next few decades, this strategy must be considered and thoroughly studied to identify the potential environmental consequences of converting large areas of the earth's surface to inland saltwater seas. Paying for these types of projects is certainly an issue for governments. Inasmuch as the protection of the coastal regions also preserves land values, the most obvious means of paying for the construction of inland canals, dams and other necessary public improvement projects is to impose...

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