While it is clear that climate change is having an active impact in the present, it is still uncertain how climate change will affect the global ecosystem and economic system in the future. Dr. Harold Wanless, chairman of the department of Geological Sciences at the University of Miami, believes that projections from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration underestimate the impact of rapid sea level rise this century. Wanless believes that the world may be in for a 30 feet sea level rise by the end of the century, four times NOAA’s projections, which could make most barrier islands and some shorelines unlivable in 50 years.

Brant Beach, Todd B. Bates, Brant Beach New Jersey

While NOAA’s position acknowledges the perilous future of barrier islands around the world, according to Wanless, it does not accurately represent the impact on populated areas like the Jersey Shore. “I think by the middle of the century people are going to become afraid of the (Jersey) Shore,” says Wanless. “Right now, it’s where we all want to live.” Wanless warns that failing to adapt our models now will lead to devastating consequences in the future. “All I’ve recommended people do is to use the U.S. projections and incorporate accelerating ice melt because that’s what’s happening,” he says. “If we’re blindsided by this, … then we’re going to see a mass migration away from the shore and low-lying areas. If we haven’t planned for that, we’re going to create a challenge for society.”

Related: Tangier Island in Virginia may be lost to sea level rise in 50 years

Wanless outlines three main recommendations for dealing with the future impacts of climate change. The first is to face the music. “[Sea level rise] is not something that is going to be stoppable at 2 feet or 3 feet or 5 feet. Even if we stopped burning fossil fuels tomorrow, the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will keep warming the atmosphere for at least another 30 years.” The second recommendation is to stop investing in sand and sea walls. “It’s really throwing money in the ocean,” says Wanless, who believes that the money could be better spent on relocating victims of climate change. “At what point when you realize that the sea level is going to be rising at an accelerated rate do you say, ‘Maybe we should put aside money to help people relocate,” says Wanless. Finally, Wanless recommends the enforcement of regulations on rebuilding and insurance for vulnerable properties. “There are areas that will be unlivable and properties that will be unsalable within a 30-year mortgage cycle all along the Atlantic coast.”

Via USA Today

Images via Todd B. Bates/APP