Transatlantic Solutions to Sea Level Rise Adaptation:
Moving Beyond the Threat

October 30-31, 2013; Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia.

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Sea Level Rise and the Political Challenges to Adaption

Glen Sussman
Political Sciences, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA, USA

Rising seas pose a threat to coastal communities from residential to commercial properties to educational and industrial sites as well as military installations. Adapting to sea level rise will involve the participation of a variety of stakeholders but they face several political challenges. In order to focus on adaption strategies within or between countries, it is first necessary to frame the issue of sea level rise in terms of the “science and politics problem.” It is difficult to speak about the issue of sea level rise without making reference to climate change, an issue that has become politicized especially in the United States. Climate science has a long history dating back to the “greenhouse pioneers” who warned about the association of a warming planet and the buildup of greenhouse gases. During the 19th and 20th centuries through the first decade of the 21st century, the scientific community has informed us that human activities are a major driver of contemporary climate change and its consequences including sea level rise. Politics plays a significant role in the climate policy-making process. How do we integrate the findings of scientific research and self-interests that drive politics? Policy-makers are influenced by their partisan and ideological perspectives, electoral politics, constituency interests, and pressure from business and industry (in this case, the fossil fuel industry). Because of a fear of more government intrusion and more regulations, U.S. leadership, in particular, has been thwarted by entrenched economic interests, conservative ideologues, and an obstructionist House of Representatives. Consequently, adaption strategies to address sea level rise will require a broad and effective coalition of stakeholders within and between countries that will include federal, state, and local officials, citizens, and the scientific community.