Climate change is causing rising seas and intensified storms, in the view of many scientists around the world. Rhode Island planners and environmental experts on the leading edge of climate-change issues are alerting businesses and communities to start making changes now to deal with the impacts.
The small businesses in Wickford Village in North Kingstown are at the top of the list for town Planning Director Jonathan Reiner.
“In Wickford Village, the parking lot floods. I’ve been here seven years and I don’t know if I’m just noticing it more, or it’s happening more often from sea level rise,” Reiner said at a Nov. 30 climate-change seminar at the University of Rhode Island’s Metcalf Institute for Marine & Environmental Reporting. “We do know if it keeps flooding, we’re going to lose that infrastructure and that will certainly impact the businesses in Wickford.”
North Kingstown was the subject of a recent pilot project to study climate change and sea level rise, done in collaboration with University of Rhode Island’s Coastal Resources Center and the Sea Grant program. The findings confirm the town’s susceptibility to the impacts of sea level rise.
It’s no surprise to Reiner, who is a member of the R.I. Climate Change Commission established by the General Assembly in 2010. The commission released a report in November stating, “The impacts of climate change upon Rhode Island’s built and natural environments are wide-ranging, discernible and documented, and, in many cases, growing in severity.”
Now Reiner’s mission is to get local businesses and residents to be aware of possible impacts and start including short-, medium- and long-term adaptations in their planning.
“If the water starts rising every time we have a tide, the parking lot is going to start flooding regularly. With one foot of higher tide, the bridge may be cut off,” said Reiner, who emphasized that dealing with the rising tide will have to be done in phases.
There’s no denying that there are many climate-change doubters. But several speakers at the Metcalf workshop agreed on the prediction of a 3-to-5-foot sea level rise by the year 2100. Some believe the time frame is accelerating.
“If there’s a 3-foot sea level rise, there will be no parking lot,” Reiner said. “And imagine if there is a 5-foot sea level rise. Coastal villages like Wickford will be gone.”