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Local Environmental Refugees

Islands There has been some discussion of environmental refugees for a while now, with islands already disappearing (article here and here) and countries like Australia claiming that they won’t accept any environmental refugees in the future…

Calls mount for Pacific refugee policy – National

Environment Minister Ian Campbell said Australia would not turn its back on its neighbours but he refused to commit to taking refugees.

He said the focus on helping Pacific nations cope with climate change should be economic and ensure that Pacific islanders stay in their home countries. “The Australian government’s focus is ensuring these countries have got strong economies and they are resilient in themselves,” Senator Campbell said.

and this report from the Indonesian government offers a pretty bleak picture of the impacts on their nation, they could lose over 10% of the number of islands that form their nation…

PlanetSave – Indonesia could lose 2,000 islands by 2030 due to global warming, environment minister says

Rising sea levels because of global warming stand to inundate around 2,000 islands in Indonesia by 2030, the country’s environment minister said Monday. The assessment by Rachmat Witoelar was the government’s bleakest yet of the effects of global warming on the Southeast Asian nation that is made up of some 18,000 islands, most of them unpopulated.

Read more after the jump…

Planning for Long Term Local Changes

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But a more insidious problem is at large, much of the coastline of countries like Australia, the UK, the US and Canada as well as much of coastal Europe will find that there are significant areas of currently occupied land that will be underwater within half a century or so. With coastal property prices skyrocketing in most Western cities around the world, one has to wonder when the tide will turn (pun intended) on the desirability of oceanside, water front coastal properties. Many of these properties will become useless and will be abandoned, as with low lying infrastructure such as sanitary sewer lines, telecommunications, powerlines and roads. Port facilities will need to be modified, raised and access improved, some airports such as Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport, Honolulu’s and Vancouver’s will likely need major earthworks to stay operational.

Engineers, innovators, inventors and planners will be needed to plan and provide solutions for these issues in urban areas. Cities will need to spent millions if not billions of dollars preparing to relocate families, businesses and infrastructure from low lying areas. Should we wait until the problem is at our doorstep before we make preparations? Sure, everyone thinks the “government” whoever they are is doing something about it, but typically these plans are for national scale emergencies and have no local input as to what should be the priority and how people should be compensated for the land they lose. Or should they be compensated? Perhaps that’s another post for another day. I’ll leave you with some of my personal thoughts and decisions…

My Choices

The last house we lived in was at about 2 meters above mean sea level, right next to Newcastle Harbour in a nice village like subdivision. We would never have bought this house for many reasons, but global warming was a serious factor in our decision.

Friends living in Newcastle, Australia have asked me where they should buy a house. In answer, I pretty much drew them a map of Newcastle and thick red penned a couple of key contour lines. The 5, 10 and 15m intervals. As an explanation, I stated that if you only slightly believe the warnings of global warming, feel free to buy anything about the 5m line, if you’re a betting man, try the ten meter contour, but if you are cautious, look for properties above the 15m line.

They then asked me, “so where would you buy?”

My answer… “In Castlegar, BC, Canada” (at 500m above sea level thank you very much!)


Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.

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