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  • Minsuh Kwak

Effects of Climate Change in Southern California

As climate change worsens, new environmental challenges arise that threaten local communities around the world. In particular, as greenhouse gases proliferate and trap heat in the earth’s lower atmosphere, surface temperatures have risen and the polar ice sheets have begun to rapidly melt. These shrinking polar ice caps are a worry to more than just polar bears; in fact, coastal areas with large residential populations have some of the most to fear. As glacial ice melts, the sea level will increase, and the EPA predicts that global sea levels will rise between one and four feet in the next century. For Southern California, where temperatures have warmed more than the rest of the state, elevated sea levels will cause frequent coastal flooding.

Southern California communities neighboring the shorelines are at particular risk due to flooding. Flooding damage is challenging to recover from: not only do floods destroy residences, displace populations, and damage infrastructure proximate to the shoreline, but there are immense costs required for relief aid and reconstruction. Additionally, such flooding severely harms the local economy by crippling the tourism industry on beachgoers and submerging vital estuaries and California fisheries. Given this severe impact, it is imperative that our community formulate protective measures against rising sea levels in spite of the financial burden on local and state government budgets. While global and state efforts to reduce carbon emissions are important in slowing the melting of the ice caps, more direct management solutions to stall flooding are of particular priority to the local community.

Two viable solutions currently exist for confronting local coastal flooding caused by climate change: seawalls and natural infrastructure. First, seawalls are artificial barriers that encompass coastal cities and safeguard the structures adjacent to the coastline. Such seawalls already exist in other places in California, such as the Embarcadero seawall in San Francisco. It costs $2 billion to mend the Embarcadero, a small expenditure compared to the $100 billion worth of property damage that would be caused by unchecked flooding. Thus, not only do seawalls securely impede flooding for long periods of time, but they also serve as an economically viable remedy to the submersion of coastal areas. Alternatively, authorities can augment beaches with natural infrastructures such as barrier islands and coral reefs as a buffer to coastal flooding. Such infrastructure has the added benefit of being more environmentally friendly and aesthetically pleasing. Palm Beach County is currently utilizing this method, “spending $17 million to create mangroves, oyster reefs, marsh and seagrass habitats on 70 acres of land” ( This highlights the significant difference between the costs of bolstering natural infrastructures to combat flooding and the potential costs to recover the damage inflicted by floods.

Despite the financial cost required of local governments, we must urge our political leaders to invest in robust solutions and guard our coastal communities from future flooding caused by climate change. Being proactive is essential to protect the welfare coastal populations that depend on their beaches for their livelihood and daily lives.

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