Irish Examiner View: Let’s prepare for threat of rising seas

In these highly-charged times, emotional and psychological resilience are tested as they have not been in several lifetimes.
Irish Examiner View: Let’s prepare for threat of rising seas

Flooding in Bantry last November. Picture: Andy Gibson
Flooding in Bantry last November. Picture: Andy Gibson

In these highly-charged times, emotional and psychological resilience are tested as they have not been in several lifetimes. The challenges of the pandemic, especially for those unable to visit a dying parent or partner, are almost beyond imagining. The pandemic’s economic legacy promises to test social loyalties, political structures and our faith in the market-knows-best credo in ways not seen in several lifetimes.

Coronavirus has exposed unnecessary failings that should make reform obligatory in a range of areas. Today’s cleaner air means tomorrow’s transport policies or infrastructure cannot be the same as they were a year ago. The idea of working from home has won unstoppable momentum, momentum that might well help rejuvenate cities in decline because traditional retailing is ebbing away. It may make the EU more alive too as collective debt has finally been agreed.

Though these challenges are huge many cities are preparing for a far greater threat, one made inevitable by climate change. A World Bank report identified China’s the port Guangzhou, population of 14m plus, as the metropolis with most to lose from rising sea levels. In America, New Orleans and New York have been identified as especially vulnerable. India’s mega-city of Mumbai, that sub continent’s most populous with 12m plus residents, is particularly vulnerable. In Rotterdam, officials working on that port’s multi-billion flood defences warned that, ultimately, waterfront residents should buy a boat, learn to use it and keep it to hand.

Today we report on an insurance sector analysis of how, over the next 30 years, coastal flooding might threaten Irish homes and businesses. This is a cold-eyed, disinterested, unemotional analysis so it leaves no wriggle room for those still trying to, as Paul Brady put it in another equally dark setting “To feed the worn-out dreams of yesterday”.

Gamma Location Intelligence (GLI) warns that more than 70,000 homes or businesses are in jeopardy. Most of these — 23,435 — are in Dublin but every coastal county will be hit, with a combined 12,000 homes at risk in Clare and Limerick. Using the most diplomatic language, GLI suggests that:

There is a cost/benefit trade-off with implementing flood defence infrastructure, however ... it is possible that the benefits of this infrastructure may have been understated ... More exposed counties... may need to re-evaluate their plans for implementing coastal defences and target the investment where it will have the greatest benefit.

This view will encourage the activists opposed to Cork city’s flood prevention plans based on building up the quay walls. It also suggests that the idea of a tidal barrier, or significant single piece of infrastructure may be considered a necessary investment. Importantly, GLI urges that planning applications in areas susceptible to flooding be considered in a far more rigorous way.

All this points to change that requires the emotional and psychological resolve so tested today. Truths we hold dear, like the idea of an untouchable national herd or three cars outside many houses, look ever-more like the worn-out dreams of yesterday. Only by embracing change can we manage it and turn it from a threat into an opportunity.

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