Our View: When Theory Becomes Reality

Storm waters break through sand bags at Little Beach in Chatham. FILE PHOTO 

If coverage in The Chronicle is any indicator, it wasn’t until about 2001 that ordinary people on the Lower cape started seriously considering the potential impacts of a very slow-moving, theoretical disaster. Experts, some seen to be on the scientific fringes, were calling it “global warming.”

It’s amazing the clarity a couple of decades can bring.

Responding to human-caused climate change is no longer theoretical, nor even the stuff of long-range planning. It’s costing all of us real money today.

Towns are now seriously pondering the possibility that rainfall deficits like the one we’ve endured for more than a couple of years will cause droughts with increasing frequency. A couple of decades from now, we might not be worried about how to maintain green lawns but how to ensure there’s adequate clean water for our basic needs. There are other ramifications: water conservation reduces water department revenues, which might someday mean the need for rate hikes or taxpayer subsidies.

The need to invest in waterfront infrastructure like new bulkheads is nothing new. But with rising sea levels, those projects are becoming increasingly difficult and costly. Harbors aren’t the only problem areas; anyone who’s driven Route 28 between Orleans and Chatham recently has seen how the waters of Pleasant Bay have undermined the pavement in some places. Locally, regionally and globally, infrastructure around the shoreline will need to be raised to keep above the rising waters.

Through insurance premiums and federally funded flood mitigation programs, we’re already footing the bill for more frequent saltwater incursions into residential neighborhoods. The big waves on the outer beach this week are a reminder that coastal storm season is almost upon us, and we’re likely to witness more flooding and erosion in the months ahead.

We congratulate Lower Cape communities that have focused discussion and town resources on the issue of climate change. As taxpayers, we need to be prepared to continue to pay a premium to address man-made climate change, both in projects that recognize, mitigate and respond to its effects and in initiatives that reduce our collective carbon footprint, like electrified town vehicles and enhanced building codes that emphasize energy efficiency. 

So even as we rededicate ourselves to individual climate action by reducing our reliance on fossil fuels at the gas pump and at the thermostat, we need to continue to work together as a Lower Cape community to find creative ways to respond to the crisis.

Because in this decade of climate change, theory’s out the window. It’s now our everyday reality.