Rising Sea Levels on the Sunshine Coast

This article popped up on my Facebook page today. It outlines the results of a predictive sea level modelling project undertaken by researchers at the University of the Sunshine Coast. In 90 years time, what with rising sea levels, vast tracts of my home region are going to be underwater.

Map showing inundation of parts of Maroochydore, Alexandra Headlands, Cotton Tree, Twin Waters, Bli Bli, Pacific Paradise, Mudjimba and Mooloolaba, due to sea level rises. Links to pdf map.

Click the map to view the full PDF version.

Looking at the maps, it seems that my parent’s place will be ok, thanks in no small part to my father’s post 1974-flood obsession with living on a hill. (Seriously, I’m not kidding when I say obsessed – we’re aiming to buy a house soon and the first thing my dad asks about any place we look at is whether or not it’s flood-prone.) My folks probably won’t be living there in 90 years anyway, but that’s not really the point.

However, parts of my high school and one of the primary schools I attended are going to get wet. The main retail/entertainment district is going to get very wet (makes sense – it’s built over a creek). The waterfront area all along the beach, places my friends lived, where my mum worked, where my sister’s boyfriend currently lives, where I got my first job (a bakery across from the surf club)… they’re all going to be underwater.

It makes it seem almost funny, how worried people have been for the last 15-odd years (or more) about a bit of beach erosion. There have been sandbags along some parts of the beaches for years now. Beach is so important where I grew up – it attracts the tourists, which of course brings in the money – but it now seems laughable to be trying to keep an extra few metres of sand on the shore when the whole place is going to be underwater as far back as the local library. That’s the library I spent countless hours in as a kid and a teen. I still have a library card.

I know I shouldn’t be as upset about this as I am. I mean, I’ve known for some time that whole island nations will be lost to the sea unless climate change can be completely stalled right now (and for some of them, not even then). I grew up on the coastline. According to the original article, 85% of Queenslanders live on the coast. Why does this news come as a surprise? What was I thinking? That somehow because it’s my home it would come through unscathed? Am I really that delusional and self-absorbed?

I don’t think it’s any of those things really. I think this news story just brought it home in a more personal, immediate way. That article is in the newspaper my parents had delivered to the house everyday. Just our little old local paper. Not a sensationalist rag that would hype up a story like this (they’d certainly hype other stories, but not this).  Not an earnest, environmental publication that is identifying these issues ahead of the mainstream news. No… if this story is in this paper, then it is mainstream news. And a lot more people are going to sit up and take notice. Myself included.

Plus, this is home. Up until now, when this whole climate change debacle wasn’t so personal, I’ve been able to do my little old bit to reduce climate change and feel like I’m doing ok. I’m contributing. After all, what more can I do? I’ve got other more important stuff going on, and it’s not like I don’t contribute. But in the same way this year’s Queensland floods hit home at all of us locals far more than similar events in Pakistan or Haiti, finding out my home town is going to be irreversibly impacted by rising sea levels affects me on a deeper, more personal level than hearing about how Australia is helping people from Kiribati prepare for life after their country becomes uninhabitable.

That’s not to say I don’t care about other people; I do. But it’s a different kind of caring; a distant kind of caring. I know we’re luckier in Australia than lots of the rest of the world. We do have the option of moving further inland. But still…

Maybe it’s selfish, but the feelings are there. And I don’t think I’m the only one who feels that way.

But what more can I do? Is it inevitable?

Maybe all that’s left is to accept that it’s happening, but to keep trying to change, keep influencing other people to change… in the hope that we can stop this inundation in its tracks. To put it more personally, maybe I need to accept that while my high school might be lost, if I try a bit harder and help other people to try harder, we can halt the water before my parents’ house goes under too. Just in case my great-great-grandkids want to see where they come from, someday.

So in the pursuit of influencing others, I ask you to ask yourself: what will my home town look like in 90 years? Will it still be there?

FYI: You can try to use this tool to help you find out, but I’m buggered if I’ve been able to make it work. Let me know if you’ve figured it out or if you know of another one.

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