Better call the Hip´cause Halifax is sinking

It´s the first day of COP16, and after staying up all night to have press releases ready for today, holding a policy meeting on the pool deck and running about the city this morning looking for a consistent wifi connection, I began to think about how I got to be here, part of the CYD for COP16, but also part of this movement.

All my life, I’ve lived on or near the coast. I was born on PEI, where the ocean is never more than 20 minutes away, and spent a couple years on Ambon, a small island in Indonesia. Now, I live and study on the Halifax peninsula in Nova Scotia. I first identified with climate change through the constant threat of sea level rise.

PEI is a low lying, sand stone island; erosion rates are among the highest in North America and as global temperatures continue to climb, we lose more and more of our coasts each year. The issue doesn’t begin and end with sea level rise; as with any environmental issue, there are many interconnected factors at play. As the water climbs and the beach washes away, weather patterns are also becoming more severe. This means that storm surges are not only more frequent and more serious; they reach farther into our communities, simply because the base water level is inching further and further up the coast.

Although Halifax doesn’t have the same spectacular erosions rates, we have a whole host of issues connected to and compounding sea level rise. Like PEI, storm surges and more severe hurricane seasons pose a huge threat to citizens. This year has been one of the worst hurricane seasons on record and the no one here has forgotten about Hurricane Juan just yet. Juan left us without power for days on end, caused great infrastructure damage and leveled sections of forest in Point Pleasant Park. On top of those issues, we’re sinking. Literally sinking; as in the land mass under the city of Halifax is subsiding, resulting in a relative water level rise almost double the international average (according to the NRTEE, the global average is between 15 and 20 cm, while Halifax has reached about 32 cm in the same time period).

But these aren’t just environmental or geographical issues; the loss of coastal land very quickly becomes a social and economical problem. Homes and business, especially in urban areas, are built right up to the water. I know that in countless coastal communities, from Rustico, PE where I used to work, to Montreal Island are within metres of current sea level. With the changes we´re now seeing, we have essential infrastructure just waiting to go for a swim.

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