Climate change means more storms, more risk of coastal erosion

James McLeod
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With hurricane Arthur bearing down on Atlantic Canada, Memorial University researcher Norm Catto says it’s too late to fix the mistakes of the past, but people should think about coastal erosion and climate change before they build a house too close to the coastline.

Concerns over climate change and its effect on coastal erosion is a major cause for concern, according to an Opposition MHA. — Telegram file photo

In 2011, Catto wrote a report that identified hundreds of communities at risk from coastal erosion.

Liberal MHA Tom Osborne has raised the issue in the House of Assembly a few times, saying the government needs to set tougher guidelines when it comes to development close to the water, instead of leaving it up to municipalities.

“We need to change the coastal development policy with an eye to the future — looking at the fact that there are stronger storm surges and rising sea levels, and that there are 250 communities with a high risk of coastal erosion,” Osborne said.

“It’s not just an environmental issue. It’s a public health and safety issue where you’re seeing properties falling into the ocean, as we’ve seen in Daniel’s Harbour.”

Last fall, then-minister Joan Shea said in the House of Assembly that it’s up to the provincial government to assist municipalities.

“There is a tool kit to help communities assess their vulnerability and we are willing to work with the communities to help them assess their risk,” Shea said. “Mr. Speaker, that is all in an attempt so that we can work with them to help them solve the problems or the issues that they may see.”

Environment Minister Terry French was unavailable to speak to The Telegram for this story.

This year’s budget allocated $500,000 to study coastal erosion.

Catto, who studies coastal management and the impacts of climate change, said in the grand scheme of things, Newfoundland is very lucky because the rocky coastline and steep contours of the island mean  there are relatively few places at risk of erosion.

Sea level rise, on average, is expected to be about three millimetres per year; that amounts to only about 30 centimetres over the next century.

The bigger impact comes from storms like Arthur.

“All the available evidence we have suggests that the storms are getting more frequent, they’re getting stronger, they’re statistically an earlier occurrence,” he said.

“Then you couple that with some bad decisions in terms of building next to the coastlines, and now you have more structures at risk.”

Catto said traditional fishing communities were much better protected, because the coastline was prime real estate for stages and stores, and the easily eroded soil was used for gardens, so the houses tended to be built on rock away from the shore.

More concerning, he said, is the relatively recent developments where people cut down the trees for the view and build closer to the water.

But even those decisions, he said, were often made a decade or more ago.

“It’s just difficult when the mistake has been made some time ago, and you have to deal with the consequences,” he said.

Twitter: TelegramJames

Geographic location: Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • Collette Johanssen
    July 07, 2014 - 23:14

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  • ray delcolle
    July 06, 2014 - 22:01

    "Is it too hard to go to the moon, eradicate smallpox or end apartheid? Is it too hard to build a computer that fits in your pocket? No? Then it's not too hard to build a clean energy future, either."

  • dlweld
    July 06, 2014 - 11:12

    Amused by the climate change "skeptics" - they're so skeptical that they flip over into gullible - and take in without question the half baked, non scientific, number-free pronouncements from big-oil sponsored shills that: "Nope, no worries, our business model is still fine, all the things you're seeing aren't happening. Take it from us." What is termed in the trade - "useful idiots"

  • mememine69
    July 05, 2014 - 12:27

    Since science has been willing to play the percentages game, (32 years of “95%” certainty) why won’t they say they are 100% certain as you remaining “believers” are? Or did you remaining “believers” even know you were exaggerating and a consensus of “could be” and “believing” more than science even does? Prove that science “believes” as much as you do and stop telling kids that science “believes” as much as you remaining “believers” do. And get up to date; *Occupywallstreet now does not even mention CO2 in its list of demands because of the bank-funded and corporate run carbon trading stock markets ruled by politicians. *Canada killed Y2Kyoto 2 years ago with a freely elected climate change denying prime minister and nobody cared, especially the millions of scientists warning us of unstoppable warming (a comet hit)

  • Steve
    July 05, 2014 - 09:05

    When global warming started to become a major issue, the oil companies hired consultants to help them manage the potential bad publicity and bad business this would bring. The consultants hired were the same consultants used by the tobacco industry. One of their main recommendations was to start pushing the phrase 'Climate Change' ahead of 'Global Warming'. I didn't think The Telegram would fall for it.

    • Leslie Graham
      July 05, 2014 - 20:00

      Quite right and a documented fact. Global warming and climate change are two seperate things. The rise in global temperatures has caused changes to the climate. My 12 year old niece has no difficulty understanding that simple schoolgirl concept but apparently it is completely beyond the intelligence level of climate change deniers. And the term 'climate change' was in use long before the term 'global warming' was coined. How many times does this have to be explained? In 1975 Professor Wallace Smith Broecker coined the phrase “global warming” in a paper called “Climate Change: Are we on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming? Gilbert Plass' study 'The Carbon Dioxide Theory of Climatic Change' was published in 1956 for example. Lawmakers and scientists have also used the term 'climate change' for decades. For example; in 1970, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a paper titled “Carbon Dioxide and its Role in Climate Change,” focusing on how emissions of carbon dioxide warm the atmosphere. But the most glaringly obvious example is the IPCC - founded in 1988. You do know what the CC stands for don't you? Duh! What IS true however, is that US Republican political strategist Frank Luntz advised the Bush administration thusly; "It’s time for us to start talking about 'climate change' instead of 'global warming' and 'conservation' instead of 'preservation'. He goes on; "...'Climate change' is less frightening than 'global warming'. As one focus group participant noted, climate change “sounds like you’re going from Pittsburgh to Fort Lauderdale.” While global warming has catastrophic connotations attached to it, climate change suggests a more controllable and less emotional challenge..." [From a leaked memo to G W Bush] So, if anyone, it was right-wing politicians in the US who led to the increased media use of the term 'climate change'. Not that it makes the slightest difference to the fact that the globe has warmed and the climate has changed before our very eyes. So now the deniers know they have been parroting a manufactured denierblog myth are they going to stop repeating it?