The following is a guest post written by Adam Whelchel, Ph.D., director of science for The Nature Conservancy in Connecticut. Adam is leading the Conservancy’s Coastal Resilience program in New York and Connecticut and is currently serving as a lead author for the Northeast section of the U.S. National Climate Assessment.
From hieroglyphs to Hollywood, the incredible power of images is no secret. Sometimes, that’s a very good thing.
David Sutherland, the Conservancy’s Connecticut government relations director, and I had this in mind in January when we met with a reporter from The Connecticut Mirror to discuss the Conservancy’s free online Coastal Resilience tool.
The tool — part of a Coastal Resilience project that started in Long Island Sound and has expanded to multiple sites including the Florida Keys and Gulf of Mexico — helps people visualize how today’s shorelines are likely to change as future storms combine with gradually rising seas. When we met with the reporter, we shared a Coastal Resilience image [below] depicting the potential devastating impact of a Category 2 hurricane on the coastal town of East Haven.
Published in a story on Jan. 9, it depicted how much worse things easily could be for an area still recovering from Tropical Storm Irene.
We hoped the image would strike a chord, and about a month later, we realized it had. The Connecticut Mirror published a follow-up that told how East Haven state Rep. James Albis reacted when he saw it.
The picture of East Haven looking something like an island resonated deeply with Rep. Albis, and he was rightly concerned for his community. “We know that the sea levels are rising. We can’t just let that kind of damage happen over and over again,” he told The Mirror. He took his concerns to House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, who promptly authorized a new Shoreline Preservation Task Force with Rep. Albis as its chairman.
The responsibilities of the task force, on which David has been asked to serve, include proposing new policies to address coastal residents’ and businesses’ needs with regard to shoreline erosion, rising sea levels and future storm planning.
This is a huge step.
The terrible misfortune suffered by so many because of Irene lies at the core of much of the discussion about storm surge, sea-level rise and coastal impacts here. It should.
At the same time, the chain of events that starts with the Mirror’s publication of the Coastal Resilience map image is a real-life example of what we mean when we say we want pragmatic, solution-oriented science to impact public policy.
Connecticut now has a great opportunity for a more robust and consequential statewide discussion of sea-level rise and its impacts, and the state is providing an example for many others across our nation to follow. The Conservancy looks forward to sharing more of what the Coastal Resilience tool shows us about our potential future — images and all.
[Top image: East Haven, Connecticut. Image source: Sarah_Ackerman/Flickr. Map image: The potential impact of a Category 2 hurricane on East Haven, Connecticut, as shown by the Conservancy’s Coastal Resilience tool].