In southeastern North Carolina, climate change is expected to cause flooding and severe hurricanes to happen more frequently, and over the next several decades, other dangers like extreme heat and higher disease rates are expected to threaten people.
Those are the findings of the latest release of the National Climate Assessment, released the day after Thanksgiving. It’s a detailed scientific report mandated by Congress every four years since 1990 about climate conditions in the United States, researched and written by more than 300 experts from government, university, research, and community agencies.
The authors urge humans around the world to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to protect populations especially at risk from climate change, including people in poverty and marginalized populations.
“It shouldn’t take another Hurricane Matthew or Hurricane Florence for our local community to understand that climate change is real. It is happening, and it something that is affecting us today and not some phenomenon that can be relegated into the future,” said Dr. Narcisa Pricope, an associate professor of geography at UNC Wilmington who studies climate change but was not involved in the report.
“I think the report sounds yet another alarm bell,” said Pricope. “It tries to be factual, non-prescriptive and non-alarmist, yet it is truly alarming to ponder the future we have ahead of us and our children if we continue to turn a blind eye on the reality of the greatest unfolding catastrophe of our generation.”
More flooding in the Southeastern U.S.
Flooding of roads and homes will continue to happen more frequently in southeastern North Carolina, according to the report.
Specifically, we are expected to see more high tide coastal flooding, sometimes called “nuisance flooding,” storm surges traveling farther inland, and longer, more frequent extreme coastal flooding events.
“High tide flooding is now posing daily risks to businesses, neighborhoods, infrastructure, transportation, and ecosystems in the Southeast,” report authors write.
Major reasons cited include rising sea levels due to global temperature increases causing melting of land ice, plus more extreme rainfall.
“Without significant adaptation measures, these regions are projected to experience daily high tide flooding by the end of the century,” the report says.
The report warns that families may be forced to move away from areas due to increased flooding dangers.
“Recent social science studies have indicated that people may migrate from many coastal communities that are vulnerable to the impacts of sea level rise, high tide flooding, saltwater intrusion, and storm surge,” according to the report.
The coastal tourism economy, port transportation, and historic sites are threatened by more severe flooding, according to the report.
More disasters like Hurricane Florence
Hurricane Florence happened too recently – September 2018 – to make it into the report. But the authors point to devastating storms in 2016 and 2017, including Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Matthew, as evidence of extreme weather events happening more frequently.
“Hurricane Florence, sadly, is a poster example of the type of future we can expect to see in the absence of sustained mitigation and immediate adaptation efforts in SE NC,” said Pricope.
Severe flooding (especially inland), loss of infrastructure, loss of life, property and livelihoods, significant disruption in social, economic and livelihood activities, the threat of proliferation of vector-borne diseases (E. coli, mosquitoes, Fecal coliform, and so on), and overall mental distress and reduced well-being are among the negative effects from Hurricane Florence also highlighted in the report, said Pricope.
“Not only did Florence affect lives and livelihoods locally, it also cost the state and federal government significant amounts of money,” said Pricope.
Hurricane Florence caused nearly $17 billion in damage, according to a late October estimate from the N.C. Office of State Budget and Management.
Climbing temperatures, drought will hurt rural communities
The predicted continuing rise of temperatures is expected to impact the ability to work and quality of life for people who live in rural areas, according to the report.
“Projected temperature increases pose challenges for crop production dependent on periods of lower temperatures to reach full productivity,” the report says. “Drought has been a recurrent issue in the Southeast affecting agriculture, forestry, and water resources.”
Higher rates of heat-related illness have been reported in rural North Carolina compared to urban locations, the report says.
“Shrimping, oystering, and fishing along the coast are long-standing traditions in the coastal economy that are expected to face substantial challenges,” report authors write.
Diseases from mosquitoes and worsening air quality in cities
Climate change is projected to make weather conditions more suitable for mosquitoes to breed and transmit certain diseases, including West Nile, dengue, chikungunya, and Zika viruses.
While southeastern North Carolina will dodge most of the effects of worsening air quality because of its proximity to the ocean, urban areas more inland will face greater risks.
“In the Southeast, poor air quality can result from emissions (mostly from vehicles and power plants), wildfires, and allergens such as pollen,” according to the report. “The Southeast has more days with stagnant air masses than other regions of the country (40 percent of summer days) and higher levels of fine (small) particulate matter (PM2.5), which cause heart and lung disease.”
Making a difference
To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the National Parks Service offers a few tips you can use in your daily life.
Dr. Pricope said we can also make changes in the voting booth.
“The average person’s best strategy, apart from the small, responsible and sustainable actions we all know we can take, is to demand accountability from our elected officials and demand that actions and steps are taken to protect our lives, livelihoods, economy and well-being,” said Pricope. “These actions include proper, nuanced planning, equitable land use decision making that takes into account socio-economically vulnerable and historically disadvantaged populations, smart growth and local climate change adaptation measures as discussed and highlighted in the report.”
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