rising tides – an uncertain future for the sunshine coast

Last post I began talking about the potential impacts of climate change. These impacts are a critical concern for two reasons: 1) the impacts will greatly affect our way of life and 2) the management of these impacts will require significant changes to our way of life.
So, over the next little bit I want to look at some of the projected impacts of warming, each adding to the climate controversy in their own unique way. I will also endeavour to address the proposed management strategies for these impacts, and look at what changes these will require on our behalf.
Anyway, I want to get started with the issue of rising sea levels which will impact on many in our coastal communities.
The IPCC predicts mean sea level rises of 10 – 80cm by 2100, with an associated increase in tidal extremes, such as higher king tides and more powerful storm surges. So what’s going to happen to our coastal communities when, as many scientists predict, there will be increased storms, tidal surges and high sea levels resulting from climate change?
Councils across the state have adapted various management practices, ranging from investment in protection works, to policies of planned retreat from the coastline. My partner’s family are from the Sunshine Coast so I’ve decided to focus in on the policies up their way.
Steve Skull, Sunshine Coast Environment Manager claims “Planned retreat would only be an option. One of the first options is for people to stay where they are and we build in protection mechanisms so communities are protected. Another one is that you can re-engineer some buildings depending on their vulnerability. And the third one might be planned retreat.”
Essentially this means that for infrastructure already in place and threatened by sea level rise, it will be a case of either protecting or re-engineering, or abandoning it.
But what is the plan for the coast’s natural assets that bring millions of dollars to the region through tourism and recreation. How will they be protected under climate change?
Options for managing coastal erosion include increased vegetation protection and the pumping back of sand which has been washed away. The Sunshine Coast Council has focused on the latter as a way of preserving (in particular) the Hastings Street beach.
I spoke with Councillor Lew Brennan about his views on this type of management, “Pumping is an expensive exercise, and one must consider its own environmental costs – it uses power produced by burning fossil fuels, which is in direct opposition to Councils policy of carbon neutrality. Where is the cut off between nature and human intervention for fashion and lifestyle?”
Pumping sand protects wealth, ensuring tourism and happy residents. These benefits make certain the exercise will continue, despite its flow-on environmental effects and constant battle against climate change.
Another feature of the Sunshine Coast’s strategy is to avoid new urban development in major climate change risk areas. Yet the Council proposes to place the regions principle activity centre in Maroochydore.
“They chose Maroochydore for the capital city, yet it’s only 1 metre above flood levels. This is a bad idea when you consider the impacts of change, and not just ‘climate’ change. To design a capital city in a region that is two years old, the fastest growing region in Queensland, only 1 meter above sea level is asking for disaster. We will have the region’s biggest hospital on the lowest piece of land on the sunshine coast!” Councillor Brennan exclaims.
Uncertainty about climate change has pushed management away from reducing its likelihood to policies which focus purely on adapting to its impacts. But what comes at a greater cost – making large-scale changes to our practices now or dealing with the mammoth consequences later?

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