The Water Will Come by Jeff Goodell (Black Inc. Melbourne, 2018)* is a book about sea level rise. It is mainly about the USA although it looks at many other parts of the planet including the Pacific Isles and the west coast of Africa. But it is the East Coast of the USA and in particular Florida which, to use an apt cliché, is ‘at the coalface’ of sea level rise.
The book examines in detail various aspects of this complex problem including climate refugees, of the need for an eventual ‘retreat from the coastline’, how the loss of gravity of melting ice effects sea level rise around the globe, of land subsidence and salinity. There is even a small amount of humour when Goodell notes “The best way to save coastal cities is to quit burning fossil fuels (if you’re still questioning the link between human activity and climate change you’re reading the wrong book).” (p.11)
With current average sea level rise around the globe of between 3 and 4 mm per annum Goodell notes that it’s not the sort of thing you can watch and only becomes visible with “higher storm surges, higher tides, and the gradual washing away of the beaches…” (p.12) He adds that “If we can hold the warming to about three degrees Fahrenheit above pre industrial temperatures, we might only face two feet of sea level rise this century, giving people more time to adapt. However if we don’t end the fossil fuel party…all bets are off. We could get four feet of sea level rise by the end of the century – or we could get thirteen feet.” (p.12)
Goodell then rhetorically asks “At what point will we take dramatic action to cut CO2 pollution? Will we spend billions on adaptive infrastructure to prepare cities for rising waters – or will we do nothing until it is too late? Will we welcome people who flee submerged coastlines and sinking islands – or will we imprison them?” (p.14) Questions of vital importance to Gippslanders and Australians generally.
So how does all this apply to Gippsland? Various aspects including subsidence, salinity, beach erosion and the amount and rate of sea level rise are important. A large part of our coastline is vulnerable to erosion and a sea level rise of a metre or more will probably destroy the Gippsland Lakes and make large parts of coastal and lakes towns and villages uninhabitable including Lakes Entrance, Paynesville and Raymond Island. See my somewhat outdated paper The Gippsland Coast in 2100 for more detail.
The time for drastic action to reduce our carbon pollution is now. And attempts by governments and the status quo in the Latrobe Valley to rescue the dying brown coal industry – like the current coal to hydrogen project in the Latrobe Valley – are pure folly. Governments of all persuasions take note.
*copy in the East Gippsland Regional Library