Sometime in the next several decades, Albany will start disappearing under the Bay. In the next few centuries, the town we know will cease to exist.
By opening the attached pdf and using your keyboard’s arrow keys, you can trace how up to 100 feet of rising sea levels will affect Albany.
With 20 feet of sea level rise, half of university village will be inundated, and San Pablo Avenue at the northern edge of town will be underwater. With 50 feet of sea level rise, Albany Hill will become an island.
With 80 feet of sea level rise, the new will be filled by the Bay. With 200 feet of sea level rise, only a tiny portion of Albany along its eastern border will still be above sea level.
How much melting ice is required to raise sea levels these amounts? A good reference is the U.S. Geological Survey fact sheet here.
Greenland alone contains enough ice to raise sea level by 21.5 feet (6.55 meters). The melting of Greenland plus the West Antarctic ice sheet would raise sea level by 48 feet (14.61 meters). That’s enough to turn into an island.
Of course, sea level changes of these magnitudes will take a few centuries. If humankind suddenly changes course and begins to reduce levels of green house gases, perhaps Albany Hill will never become an island. But for now, the international coordination and political will necessary to restrain climate change are lacking. I’m betting on Albany Hill eventually becoming Albany island.
A changing climate changes everything, except people’s minds. Concepts like “waterfront” and “shoreline” no longer have any meaning. Instead we will have a series of constantly shifting waterfronts and shorelines.
The is a good example. Most of the land there—the access road, the lower parking lot, the track, almost all of —lies less than four feet above the high tide line. Climate scientists warn us that sea levels could rise as much as two meters (6.5 feet) this century, or more. The waterfront is slowly reverting to a tidal marsh, its natural state.
Even with current sea levels, the intense storms brought about by climate change are causing destructive flooding across the planet. When coupled with high tides, as was the case recently in Thailand, flooding can cause fantastic amounts of damage.
It’s not hard to envision a scenario in which climate change creates a huge winter storm that dumps precipitation across Northern California. Flood waters pour down the Sacramento River as high tides and prevailing NW winds effectively dam the Golden Gate. The result will be a major flood even with minor amounts of sea level rise.
Chapter two of Albany’s Climate Action Plan (CAP), although slightly dated, has more good information on these topics. The problem is no one seems to be thinking through the implications of chapter two. The disconnect between chapter two of CAP and the Voices to Vision report is mind-boggling.
In Albany, we are not paying enough attention to what climate change will bring. In our fair city the litmus test for environmental correctness is arguing about what portion of the waterfront will be devoted to open space. And that’s for land that we don’t even own. The process is a lot like paying $650,000 for a ticket to board the Titanic so we can discuss how to rearrange the deck chairs, even though it’s not clear we will ever be allowed to touch them.
It’s time to get real. The waterfront cannot be saved, short of creating a mini New Orleans in the Bay with massive amounts of landfill and ever-growing dikes. But unlike the real New Orleans, this one will come with earthquakes.
The word Albany needs to embrace is “triage.” What can we save, and what should we let go? How should we cope with rising sea levels and bigger storms? How will we deal with clogged storm drains and uprooted trees?
In 1988 was the year climate scientist James Hansen first testified to Congress about how climate change will affect our future. That was a generation ago. A few generations from now, our grandchildren in Albany will look back at this time period, read about our Voices to Vision process and our antediluvian obsession with the waterfront, and they will say to themselves, “what were those people thinking?” We owe it to them to do better.
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