1 The people of Lennox Island, a tiny
island off Canada’s Atlantic coast, are some of the first in the world to see
their land disappearing as a result of climate change. Just a little larger
than New York City’s Central Park, it is possible to walk around Lennox Island
in under four hours. And the island is still shrinking.
2 In just one generation, Lennox Island
has lost over 15 percent of its land due to sea level rise. Adding to the
problem, ice cover comes later in the winter and melts more quickly, taking
away its icy protection of the coast and so increasing coastal erosion.
Previously, the island’s 79 homes were all safely away from the beach. Today, at
least 10 of them are dangerously close to the shoreline as the sea moves inland.
In just two years, some six meters of shoreline has vanished.
3 The impact of global warming on vulnerable
low-lying island states—such as the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, and Kiribati
in the Pacific—has been widely studied. However, there are many lesser-known, smaller
communities around the world, such as Lennox Island, that are equally
vulnerable to rising sea levels. Many of these communities have quietly begun
developing their own solutions to the changing climate.
4 The 400 residents of Lennox Island have
realized they don’t have time to wait for the rest of the world to cut carbon
emissions. They have decided to take action for themselves. The residents formed
an archaeological team, for example, to remove and preserve their ancestors’ ancient
tools. The people who lived on the island thousands of years ago left arrowheads,
spears, pots, and other items. Many of these treasures are now appearing on the
beaches as the coastline erodes. The race is on to rescue these treasures
before the sea takes them away.
5 The Lennox islanders are not only focused
on their past—they are also preparing for their future. They have commissioned the
latest computer simulations to project what the island will look like as the
seas slowly take over their land. The simulations generate maps that show which
parts of Lennox Island will be covered as the sea rises, as well as coastal erosion
to the end of the century. The picture is not good—research shows that land
loss will get worse as sea level rises faster and erosion intensifies.
resident Dave Haley lives just five feet above sea level. “Some houses are
going to have to be moved,” he says. “It’s going to happen. Look how close to
the water I am!” Pointing to the ocean in front of his home, he adds, “The kids
used to play baseball in the field right there.”
7 The leaders of the community know that the
island will be underwater at some point. So they are looking for land on nearby
Prince Edward Island where people could move to. In the meantime, they have to
decide whether to move the most vulnerable homes. They also need to make crucial
decisions about providing support for buildings and structures they want to
protect. Also in danger is the only way to get on or off the island—a bridge
that is just above sea level. If the water continues to rise as predicted, it will soon be underwater.
8 The future of the island itself may be
bleak, but the islanders are confident their community will survive. “We are an
adaptable and resilient people,” says Lennox Island community leader Matilda
Ramjattan. “We will figure this out.”