ANNAPOLIS ROYAL - Residents in the Annapolis Royal area are getting organized to face the challenge of rising sea levels caused by climate change – and that tide is rising a whole lot faster than most people think.
Judith Luther Wilder presided over a community meeting on Feb. 13 and is still amazed and delighted how a book discussion group morphed into a community meeting.
Librarian Dorothy MacDonald had the event scheduled for the town’s small library at town hall -- a book discussion held each week on the day the library is closed to the public. That week Naomi Klein’s books – including This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate -- were the subjects of discussion.
But interest in the topic drew so much response that the discussion was moved to the United Church where about 70 local residents packed the pews and listened to local climate change expert Hague Vaughan speak for almost an hour with residents asking questions for another hour.
The church itself has an action team that deals with environmental issues and sea level rise and climate change was a natural discussion topic for the church to host.
For Vaughan, the subject of rising sea levels is not new news. In fact he and others have been trying to get governments to act with very little effect – especially on the subjects of mitigation and adaptation. Towns like Annapolis Royal are especially prone to the early effects of sea level rise.
So Vaughan wrote to every mayor and warden from Yarmouth to Windsor on April 4, 2017 telling them that sea level rise due to climate change could be as much as 15.7 inches by 2030.
He received no response.
Vaughan, who lives in Granville Ferry just across the basin from Annapolis Royal, isn’t some quack climate change conspiracy theorist. He’s a career ecologist with a Phd who was a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change -- the organization that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. And he was a top scientist with Environment Canada, heading up its Ecological Monitoring and Assessment Network from 1998 to 2008 when he retired.
“Most Nova Scotians accept that climate change is happening but believe that technology will mitigate its worst effects,” Vaughan said in the letter to municipalities. “That hopefully might be true in the later half of the century but coastal properties, services, infrastructure and commerce will all be impacted by rising sea-levels by 2030 and we need to plan now. It's only 13 year years away.”
Now it’s only 12 years and he says nothing has been done in the meantime.
The information he provided municipalities came from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Global and Regional Sea Level Rise Scenarios for the United States, released on the very last day of Barak Obama’s presidency.
“These NOAA predictions update the figures in the last IPCC report which were criticized even at the time as being too low,” Vaughan said in his letter. “These conservatively predict a rise of 0.4 metres or 15.7 inches in the next 13 years resulting in estimated 25-fold increase in nuisance and disruptive flooding.”
To put it in perspective Vaughan said currently high tides combined with storm surges cause about three inches of flooding over the Annapolis Royal wharf every 18 to 24 months.
“The NOAA prediction would see such flooding 12 to 13 times per year by 2030 up to a maximum of 18.7 inches,” said Vaughan. “that is, 15.7 inches maximum predicted plus three inches current. This is a conservative estimate based on past storm patterns whereas storms are predicted to become more common and more extreme. Similar flooding will occur worldwide.”
While he explained how greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane are entering the atmosphere at alarming rates, and how they trap the sun’s warmth, his message was more about mitigating and adapting to the results of rising temperatures – especially in coastal communities like Annapolis Royal – and not about reducing carbon footprints and sequestering carbon. He believes that also has to be done, but said nothing will stop what has already been set in motion. Those sea level rises will happen no matter what.
“Choices that sharply limit emissions can moderate the impacts of climate change for future generations,” said Vaughan, “but we are too late to stop them.”
Annapolis Royal Mayor Bill MacDonald attended the meeting and told the crowd that town council was already in the process of striking a committee to look at sea level rise and action that can be taken.
“I bring good news,” he said. “This mayor and council are in the process of establishing a committee – the name of which is yet to be determined.”
He said it will be a standing committee like all the committees of the town and there would be opportunity for members of the public to be on that committee.
“Absolutely we know that in the past fire was a danger to our community,” MacDonald said. “Water is now our new danger and we all recognize that. We cannot wait for someone else to do it. We do need to do it. This is the conversation we had at council. I said ‘it can’t wait for the next administration to get around to doing it. We’re tasked with it to do something now.’”
He said Annapolis Royal’s CAO is reaching out to the County of Annapolis, the County of Digby, the Town of Digby to look at the problem.
At the end of the meeting, many signed up to be part of a group exploring next steps and a meeting for those interested is scheduled for Feb. 28 at 2 p.m. at the upstairs meeting room of the Old Town Pub just of Market Square.
Vaughan and Marc Wilder attended an organizing meeting in Wolfville on Feb. 16 with a focus on sea level rise in Atlantic Canada. That meeting was organized by Educating Coastal Communities About Sea Level Rise. That group will make a similar presentation in Annapolis Royal in April.