Building with nature: Can reviving a marsh save this California town from sea level rise?
RENO, Nev. — When people in this Nevada hamlet talk about the future, they see two distinct visions: one of a future of dunes and mountains and, in the other, sea-level rise.
For generations, the area on the cusp of the Cascades has been the site of a slow-burning movement to halt an increasingly destructive form of global warming: sea-level rise. Now the fight over what to do next is heating up.
Like other communities around the world, Reno, along with cities in Oregon and California, is debating how to address the issue. The stakes are high. If the world’s cities don’t act to blunt rising seas, a “global tipping point” may occur that could cause catastrophic environmental events.
Over the last two decades, rising seas have inundated coastal neighborhoods, displacing tens of thousands of people and creating havoc for fisheries and industries. The problem is most acute in coastal states, such as California, Oregon and New York, whose coasts are already at or near their limits.
“California is already on pace to warm up to 3 degrees Fahrenheit faster than the rest of the country and will warm by 3 degrees colder than the planet has warmed in the entire 20th century,” said Michael Oppenheimer, an oceanographer with the U.S. Geological Survey, who has studied the relationship between global warming and sea levels. “If we don’t take very strong measures, we’re already at the point of no return.”
In Reno, local activists and activists from elsewhere around the nation are building a coalition to stop climate change. Their mission is to win a court ruling that would prevent the U.S. government from spending funds on preparations for a climate crisis — unless the funds are also spent to protect communities from rising seas.
For many in Reno, stopping climate change is part of a broader vision for restoring their city.
“The challenge that we’re facing is being able to use the scale of the problem and the resources available to us,” said Doug Osterman, the city’s top climate scientist. “There is no silver bullet.”