Viewpoint: Ganges submerged in future

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By TIMOTHY HARVEY

Recently, a public rally on Salt Spring drew attention to the local link between our housing crisis and climate change. Demonstrators suggested, among other measures, that we add accommodations to the Ganges village core. Indeed, this would address some of the problems we face today.

What about the problems we will face tomorrow? In October 2019, a consortium of climate scientists released an updated map of coastal regions predicted to be flooded by rising sea levels by the year 2050. The new estimates triple the previously predicted extent of flooding, by correcting for satellite data in which elevations had accounted for rooftops rather than ground-level topography. The updated map shows virtually all of Ganges under water in just 30 years. That’s right: water lapping at the doors of the high school, with everything from Grace Point to Mid-Island Co-op gas station and the sewage treatment plant submerged by tidewater.

Sound extreme? It is. But the damage to climate is already done. When you place an ice cube in a warm room, it does not instantly melt. It melts gradually over a time scale relative to its size. We are now living within a brief, decades-long lag between present temperatures and the catastrophic melting of the earth’s great ice cubes, found mostly in Greenland and Antarctica.

The consensus on coming floods is based on known variables, including water volume, topography and observations of the current rate of melting. It is safe to assume that the fate of our beloved Ganges is a foregone conclusion.

We either fight this reality, adapt to it, or both. But unless we raise taxes enough to protect Ganges Harbour with a storm surge barrier reminiscent of the Dutch Delta Works, we have three decades to mount an exodus from our village core, and from dozens of the island’s more desirable waterfront residences as well. That should be enough time to shift main roads and to decommission the current village in an environmentally sensitive fashion, and, of course, to find new housing for displaced flood-zone refugees.

Until then, by all means, let’s liven up the village and mitigate the current housing shortage. We should enjoy everything Ganges has to offer for as long as we can. But as tidewaters creep to the foot of Ganges Hill and hundreds of millions of climate refugees are displaced worldwide, we’ll want a solid plan in place to deal with homelessness on a scale that puts today’s housing crisis in stark perspective.      

The updated 2050 flood prediction map can be viewed at coastal.climatecentral.org.

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