How the Climate Bill Will Clean Up Our Beaches


Photo via Boston

That climate bill--it's full of surprises. Okay, so not really: it's a well known fact that climate change is going to have a drastic impact on beaches and coastal areas around the world. But what's not as well known is the fact that the Waxman-Markey bill includes provisions to specifically protect US coastal areas and will go a long ways in keeping our beaches clean. Here's what it'll do.Nancy Stoner, co-director of the Water Program in Washington DC writes for NRDC, "What does an energy bill have to do with beachwater? An awful lot, it turns out, because global warming poses an immediate risk to nearly every town and city beach across the country." Right--that we knew. But the immediate threat to beaches isn't merely rising sea levels or more severe storms: it's the result of those more severe storms.

How Climate Change Ruins America's Beaches
Here's what happens:

when it rains on town and city streets, water rushes into storm drains pulling oil, toxins, and fertilizers along with it. In many communities, stormwater gets passed through the same pipes as sewage, and when the system gets swamped by rain, the sewage gets dumped raw--with all its cargo of infectious bacteria, viruses, and parasites-- right next to nearby beaches.

NRDC's recent report on the state of US beaches revealed that there were 20,000 beach closings in 2008 alone, and that the number one cause of those closings was that nasty runoff. Global climate change will cause the number of those closings to skyrocket. And with increased downpours, "more pathogens will end up in our beaches--specifically more microbes that cause stomach flu, diarrhea, skin rashes, and neurological and blood infections." Fortunately, the climate bill includes three specific provisions to keep US beaches clean and safe in the short and long term. They are, as noted by the NRDC:

The Climate Bill Will Protect US Beaches
1. It will set firm limits on global warming pollution, which will help minimize the impacts of climate change, including storm events.

2. It calls for protecting the wetlands, coastal dunes, and other natural systems that buffer us from storms and help filter out pollutants in stormwater.

3. It offers funding for water utilities and sewage treatment plants to update their storm drains and make their infrastructure more resilient to climate change.

Which makes a lot of sense--our beaches are in a sense on the front lines of climate change, and these efforts are necessary to protect them. And while the message gleaned here may seem like an unorthodox approach to promoting climate legislation, it's the kind of thinking that's particularly useful in helping some of the ideas behind Waxman-Markey get greater traction with the American public. More of the simple, distinct effects of climate change--like increased beach degradation, which will have a direct impact on communities and the tourist industry--should be highlighted to better explain what the climate bill seeks to accomplish.

Fight climate change, save our beaches.

More on the Climate Bill
Historic Climate Bill Passes House of Reps
Moves to Strengthen Climate Bill Underway in Senate

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