Coastal communities are all doomed

Some 123 million people – 30% of Americans – live in coastal counties. Some 50% – 11,200 miles – of US coastline are at high risk of sea level rise. Small communities are already suffering the effects. Kivalina, a small hunting and fishing village of four hundred people in Alaska, has seen its tiny spit of sand drastically reduced as ice melt leaves it unprotected from storms. Engineers predict the town will be uninhabitable by 2025. Three other such settlements face imminent destruction, and at least eight more are at high risk. In Barrow, the most northerly US town, residents already feel the pinch too: ice melt and unpredictable ice quality has ruined hunting livelihoods.

It’s not just small, northern towns that are affected. A recent study found over 1,700 US towns and cities face greater risk from sea level rise than previously believed – including Boston, New York, and Miami. Parts of each of these 1,700 locations will be ‘locked in’ by 2100 – a date by which a future under water will be certain, with no turning back possible.

What once might have been considered a ‘100 year flood’ – the highest water expected for a century – is likely to occur every three to 20 years. Sea level rise is a problem in its own right, but also means devastating consequences for increasingly fierce storms: what will the extra water do in a storm?

Even if all emissions stopped immediately, global temperatures would take time to respond. Dramatic cuts, greater than any leader has yet agreed, might save nearly 1,000 of these locations from an underwater future. The fate of some, however, is already sealed, and this group grows by the hundreds as emissions continue.