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Rising sea levels a threat to some coastal suburbs

Claire Krol, Tuesday December 21, 2010 - 12:05 EDT
ABC image
The satellite map of Rockingham showing sea level rise possibilities outlined in blue along the coast - ABC

For some, it's the great Australian dream. Buy a home in a seaside suburb and raise a family or perhaps retire there.

But for a growing number of Australians living in coastal areas around the country, predictions that rising sea levels brought about by climate change could wipe out thousands of homes, are a concern.

New maps released by the Department for Climate Change show in dramatic detail which suburbs along Australia's coast are most likely to become prone to prolonged flooding over the next century.

The Minister for Climate Change Greg Combet said the maps will help people living in low lying coastal areas prepare for the impacts of climate change.

"The maps provide useful information to decision makers to prepare for potential risks from rising sea levels in coastal areas," he said.

While there appears to be a risk, researchers say it remains to be seen if residents living in those areas have fully grasped what it could mean for them.

A University of Adelaide researcher Christopher Button has spent the last two and a half years examining the attitudes of people living in some of Australia's most vulnerable coastal areas.

Mr Button, a PhD candidate, surveyed about 200 Western Australians living in Rockingham, south of Perth, which is expected to be affected by flooding in the coming decades.

He says on the whole, people are aware they might be at risk but are indifferent about rising sea levels.

"I received mixed reactions from people," he said.

"Some people appeared to be climate change deniers, others said the issue wasn't high on their list of priorities."

Mr Button says people generally acknowledge that climate change exists, and that rising sea levels will affect them but there is a reluctance to address the issue directly.

"A lot of them were happy to engage in mitigatory tactics; they were willing to use less energy, reduce their water use, recycle but overall there were only a limited number of respondents that were willing to directly change their lifestyle or values," he said.

"A lot responded with apathy, there was a real 'she'll be right' mentality. There was a certain level of intransigence, and denial and plenty of people who seemed to struggle to acknowledge the reality of the situation.

"Most said they are expecting more leadership from people to highlight the issue, to explain the science behind it."

The Rockingham Mayor Barry Sammels says he's well aware rising sea waters will affect the area over the next century.

He says the city is joining forces with other local councils to deal with the problem.

"The information released by the Commonwealth Government, by its own admission, is very rudimentary and does not factor in local coastal conditions or local coastal processes," he said.

Mr Sammels says the city is seeking the best available scientific information so that the real impacts can be better understood.

"It is for this reason that the city is currently seeking to prepare itself such that the possible impacts are better understood and that measures to adapt to the impacts can be put in place."

He has cited the need for all levels of Government to come together on the issue.

"The financial burden associated with local coastal vulnerability assessments, and implementing the adaptation measures that are ultimately identified, is beyond the capacity of local government," he said.

"Both the state and Commonwealth Governments need to take more responsibility in this area and provide the guidance and financial support to assist local government."

Rockingham is just one of the coastal suburbs in WA likely to be affected but cultural theorist Jon Stratton says governments of any ilk might struggle to illuminate the importance of the issue.

He says it appears some people are so overwhelmed with information about climate change, they have simply turned off.

"The whole idea of climate change came as a real shock to people about six years ago. What's happened now is it has become far more normal, people have just sort of factored it in so it has become harder to mobilise people.

"This reaction might account for many people, who despite their better judgement, appear to be willing to pretend rising sea levels aren't a problem."

He says the problem appears to be too large for some people to comprehend.

"Part of the problem is, when you have something that is as big as climate change it is in a sense incredibly abstract," he said.

"People think better about things that are more local, climate change is so global that people think 'this doesn't affect me personally'."

Christopher Button says those who may be affected should become better informed.

"For one reason or another they just aren't concerned," he said.

"For a lot of them it seems to come down to a need for them to wise up, to make their own informed decision."

He says whether they like it or not, people need to make the most of the latest information.

"The biggest problem here is, if one day, these areas are submerged, where are these people going to go? Are they insured? Are they financially prepared?

"If their homes are under water they will have nowhere to live and that exposes a far greater social cost."

To see whether your home could be prone to flooding visit,


© ABC 2010

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