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UCSB Conference Shines Light on Sea Level Rise

Experts examine the long-term effects of climate change and human activity

The planet’s oceans are warming up, that warm water is expanding and the sea level is rising.

While science perfects these points, less clear is how to make humans see the connection between the long-term effects of global warming and what they’re doing to the planet now.

In an effort to better communicate and link that risk and uncertainty, UC Santa Barbara on Friday hosted a Figuring Sea Level Rise Conference in the Corwin Pavilion as the final installment of its Critical Issues in America series.

Perhaps successfully, presenters at the all-day conference left many of those in the audience with concerned expressions and furrowed brows, especially after watching several excerpts of NOVA broadcasts on the related subjects.

Morning sessions shared stories directly from the mouths of affected communities and Indigenous people from Alaska, Hawaii, Canada and Santa Barbara.

In the afternoon, experts took the stage to discuss the decisions that they say have been and will have to be made over the next century as rising seas transform the world’s coastlines and coastal zones.

“It all comes down to water,” said retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral David Titley, also a former deputy undersecretary for operations at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency.

Titley said that Ice in the arctic is disappearing into the ocean — where 85 percent to 90 percent of all heat resides — and it isn’t coming back. He said the Navy is looking at the issue of sea level rise, which is an estimated 1 to 2 centimeters each year, but experts warn that waiting for another seminal event or super storm is not part of the answer.

“We can either look at climate change as a common threat or enemy with countries, or every person for themselves,” Titley said. “It’s not, of course, just the United States. I cannot overemphasize leadership.”

Kathryn Yusoff of Lancaster University in the United Kingdom discusses a
Kathryn Yusoff of Lancaster University in the United Kingdom discusses a “vigilant catastrophe” associated with climate change and sea level rise. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

Imagining the unimaginable and “vigilant catastrophe” were two ways Kathryn Yusoff, a lecturer at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom, described sea level rise and its closely related problems.

“It’s very difficult to actually point to climate change even though climate change is already happening,” Yusoff said. “There’s this kind of cusp that we’re living on. There’s a tendency to engage and say we should do something and then do nothing. This question of obligation is very kind of key.”

How to change the mentality of the average voter to influence their representative and then environmental policy seemed to be apart of every expert’s remarks.

Paula Apsell, a senior executive producer for NOVA, said the media need to find a balance between “scaring the pants off people” and giving them information they can comprehend or practice.

Some of the more than a dozen documentaries the PBS show has created look at the potential dangers while others more positively examine alternative energy sources. 

Experts emphasized that those living along the coast aren’t the only ones who should worry. Those building and residing in areas of California known for wildfires are also at increased risk as the Earth’s temperature rises.

“If it doesn’t scare you, it probably should,” Titley said, noting that he hoped a resolution will be found. “If you’re in a hole, stop digging.”

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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