RISE: Climate Change and Coastal Communities

A seabird in San Francisco Bay. Photo: Claire Schoen Media

By Claire Schoen Media

Most of the great cities, the world over, are built along the water. So are many towns, hamlets, and villages. But sea level rise and extreme weather, both fueled by climate change, threaten to reclaim coastal lands and the communities that are built on them. The destruction of New York’s shoreline, in the wake of Super Storm Sandy, has made this all too clear.

The RISE series looks at this international issue through the lens of a single place: the San Francisco Bay and the 7 million people who live and work in cities that ring its shores. Moving beyond the headlines, RISE asks hard questions — and finds some interesting answers. (See the previous post “Paddling San Francisco Bay.”)

Producer Claire Schoen has been creating award-winning radio, film, video, and multimedia stories about the environment for over 25 years. Longer versions of the RISE stories are available as audio podcasts at searise.org/podcasts.

Story 1: Beside the Tide

Climate change. We talk about it as this big problem, up ahead of us, in our future. But climate change is already our problem. Record heat waves, record cold snaps, increasing storms, hurricanes, floods – and sea level rise. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Especially as icebergs continue to melt.

For coastal cities, the impacts can be devastating as roads, airports, sewage treatment plants, and hospitals are inundated. From Miami to Los Angeles, from the Pacific Islands to Bangladesh, how will this change our lives?

Story 2: Hard Choices

Across the globe, rising waters are lapping at our shores. While we must work to slow climate change, which is causing the seas to rise, it is now too late to roll it back altogether. So it is time to start adapting to the impacts that are now inevitable. The Pacific island nation of Tuvalu plans to evacuate its entire population to New Zealand. The Dutch are building higher and higher defenses against the North Sea.

How will other communities adapt to sea level rise and increasingly severe weather?

Story 3: Rooted at the Water’s Edge

Sea level rise. We hear about it more and more. It’s described as a looming disaster movie – in slow motion. Climate change is causing sea level rise and also creating bigger storms. For cities, towns, villages, and farms along the world’s coastlines this may mean a big change: families forced to move off their land, communities broken apart, a way of life erased like footprints on the beach.

Are we willing to face this reality? Steve Mello’s family doesn’t want to.

Story 4: Mortgaging the Future

When it comes to tackling tough problems, America is known for innovation and ingenuity. But there are some problems staring right at us, that we seem unwilling to face. Like sea level rise. We know the ice caps are melting: the Petermann Glacier in Greenland recently lost a chunk four times the size of Manhattan.

How will Americans handle sea level rise? We don’t know, yet. But we must start asking the questions.

Story 5: The Flood Next Time

Even if we were to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to a screeching halt, today, the impact of climate change on coastal communities will be severe; rising water levels, bigger storms, higher tides and waves, all hitting cities built along the water. We need to figure out how to adapt. In many spots around the world projects are underway to protect coastal regions. The tiny hamlet of Alivso has taken on this big task.

See more from the media project RISE: Climate Change and Coastal Communities.

Changing Planet

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Meet the Author
More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn