Beware of king tides — the result of human induced climate change

April 22, 2021
Rob Pyne (right). Photo: Rob Pyne / Facebook

King tides and climate change have become survival issues for the world’s coastal cities.

I live in the tropical city of Cairns, which lies on the Pacific Rim in the far north of Australia. Cairns is a very low-lying city and, consequently, is vulnerable to salt water inundation from sea-level rise.

Each year, I venture down to the water’s edge at the time of our highest king tide to inspect the impact of the tide on our city’s infrastructure.

After the latest king tide on March 28 I issued a warning to residents. “Climate Change is a real and present danger to the city of Cairns. I fear future destruction of property and livelihoods, and even loss of life, on an unprecedented scale.”

NASA monitors sea-level rises around the world and the chief scientific bodies in most advanced nations monitor them too. However, as a climate activist, I make an effort to inspect my city at the time of the king tide. I believe this is important.

A range of factors, including atmospheric conditions and the lunar cycle, influence the tide. However increasing sea-level rise, the result of human-induced climate change, is having a big impact around the world.

The impact of coastal inundation during king tides will only get worse. This is because significant sea-level rise is already factored in as a result of greenhouse gases that have been omitted since the start of the Industrial Revolution. Continuing emissions exacerbate the scale of the problem.

King tides highlight exactly where our city is vulnerable to inundation and storm surge. Rising sea levels increase the risk of massive destruction and the loss of life during storm surge and cyclones.

Businesses in the CBD and nearby residents are likely to be inundated by tidal floods in the coming years and governments must take action on climate change before it is too late.

The community must be aware of the dangers that come with climate change. Cairns has always been at risk of serious outcomes should a cyclonic storm surge coincide with a king tide. However, as the sea levels rise, the dice are well and truly loaded against us.

King tides can be used to increase public awareness. Activities could include “climate walks” at king tide as many will not have seen such a high tide. Some who have not seen one for many years may be surprised to see the inundation happening today.

Political action should go hand in glove with any awareness activity. Indeed, every climate event must be political because, at the end of the day, if there is not political action to reduce emissions, wherever we live in the world’s coastal cities, we will find it very difficult to keep our heads above water.

Without strong action on climate change, the king tides of today will be the normal tides in just a few decades.

The king tides of the future will then inundate much of the world’s coastal cities. Likewise, “once-in-100-year” floods will become regular events. We must not let that happen.

[Rob Pyne is a Cairns City councillor and a member of the Socialist Alliance.]

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