Changing Tides Report

08-16-2016 // NWF

States along the Eastern Seaboard are already feeling the impacts of climate change. Climate change, which is caused by the atmospheric build-up of heat-trapping greenhouse gases (GHGs) from fossil fuel combustion and other human activities, contributes to higher ocean temperatures (which in turn have been linked to increased intensity and frequency of hurricanes) and sea-level rise. As such, our coasts and communities, even ones inland, are facing growing challenges from erosion, saltwater intrusion, and floods. These impacts have far reaching consequences for both natural and human communities along the coast from Miami to Maine. Coasts are critical to wildlife and people. Communities across the region depend on coastal beaches, bays, and islands for a wide array of benefits. These unique ecosystems provide crucial habitat for wildlife such as fish and waterfowl and support robust tourism and recreation economies. They also serve as natural buffers against potentially damaging storms and, increasingly, against rising sea levels.

As the risks from sea-level rise continue to grow, so, too, has the impetus for states and communities to prepare for changes that are occurring, or will occur in the near future, by taking actions to resist impacts and improve coastal resilience—a strategy referred to as adaptation. In the wake of increasingly dire projections for sea-level rise, however, it is equally essential that we prevent the worst outcomes by significantly reducing the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions—a strategy known as mitigation.

To protect our communities and natural resources, we should swiftly implement a two-pronged strategy of mitigation and adaptation:

  1. Dramatically reduce our GHG emissions to slow and eventually stop the impacts of climate change.
  2. Proactively prepare for impacts that cannot be avoided.

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