This weekend, citizen scientists across Hampton Roads will participate in a GPS mapping event to measure the impacts of the “King Tide” that is coming to our region this Sunday.
A “King Tide” is a non-scientific term often used to refer to exceptionally high tides that can occur at various times and locations based on unique factors. The one we will witness this Sunday is related to the moon’s phase and its distance from the Earth. (More details on that here from someone much more qualified.)
The King Tide is especially important to Hampton Roads because it could provide a preview of what future daily tidal flooding may look like. With climate change fueling sea level rise, we know we will see more flooding events and stronger storms, but there will be subtler impacts that happen on a daily basis, like the ebb and flow the tide. We already have sunny day flooding in many locations in Hampton Roads but the Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that number to increase dramatically over the next 30 years. By 2045 the estimated number of tidal flooding events for Norfolk will be 180 per year, which is a little less than one tidal flooding event every other day and by 2050 sea level is predicted to be 1.4 – 2 feet higher.
Needless to say, cities like Norfolk have major decisions to make about how and where to develop, retreat, and adapt. This is a huge opportunity for our region to be an example of how cities will thrive on a planet with higher temperatures and sea levels. A recent study suggested nearly $2 billion in upgrades to protect just the City of Norfolk from flooding which is more than double the total annual budget of the City of Norfolk, and obviously the city can’t utilize the entire budget on one thing.
With a president and a congress who are not inclined to act on climate change in the currently polarized political climate of D.C, local efforts will be critical over the next several years. That means that cities will have to figure out ways to adapt to climate change but also, and arguably just as important, reduce carbon pollution to mitigate climate change.
Many cities are recognizing that their efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change are complimentary and go hand in hand. A primary example of this is in terms of policy and planning is the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, an international alliance of cities and local governments supporting voluntary action to combat climate change and move to a low emission, resilient society.
Norfolk was the first city to join the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, and local groups like the Sierra Club and Mother’s Out Front are leading the effort to get other cities to join. The Global Covenant requires cities to do several things, including a greenhouse gas inventory, a climate impacts assessment, setting targets for carbon emission reduction (or clean energy use), and developing a climate action plan that combines these other elements. The timeline for completion is 3 years. These efforts are 100% voluntary and, if a city is unable to achieve their goals by the target dates, there aren’t negative legal or financial implications for the city; instead, the city just continues working to achieve goals on a altered time frame.
The interdependence of adaptation and mitigation is also demonstrated through technology, such as “micro-grids”. A micro-grid is a is a small-scale power grid that can operate independently or in conjunction with the area’s main electrical grid. Micro-grids can provide many benefits including reduced carbon pollution, reduced energy costs, and increased resiliency when the main power grid goes offline, in the case of extreme weather. Cities in Hampton Roads could set up “Resilient Emergency Shelters” in schools, community centers, or other buildings that can be housed with solar panels and battery storage so that, in the event of extreme weather, that facility will be able to maintain and generate power for critical electrical needs.
Every day we see the impacts of climate change more and more. We know the science – the sea is rising faster in Hampton Roads than anywhere else on the East Coast. Our region is the poster child for climate change in America, and, as climate change continues to dominate headlines, we are in a unique position to showcase both the dangers of this new reality and the strong leadership required to adequately deal with it.
Every day we also see solutions to this problem, from the rapid rate of clean energy installations popping up everywhere to the many local leaders in the Commonwealth of Virginia, as well as across the globe, who are standing up and speaking out in support of action on climate change. From Berlin to Blacksburg to Norfolk, cities are committing to develop plans to drastically reduce carbon emissions and make their communities safer and more resilient. It’s this kind of forward thinking and innovation that will be critical for our community to continue to thrive in the age of climate change.