Canary Island

May 2012

The email from a long-time Balboa Island resident is chatty and lighthearted, covering everything from her recent back surgery, to our Top Doctors list, to her favorite Orange Coast columnists. Then this:

“We are moving to East Bluff. I have real issues with the rising seas and the future of Balboa Island—one of the big reasons I sold our property, that and the economy. I don’t think the City Council is being realistic about the height of the wall necessary.”

To me, her words sound a lot like the last cheep of a coal mine canary. The ongoing debate in Newport Beach involves whether to spend between $60 million and $80 million to repair and raise the seawall surrounding that tiny harbor enclave by a foot—roughly the same amount the sea is projected to rise by 2050. Doing the same for the rest of the city could cost many times that.

The intriguing dilemma drives this month’s story about the future of Balboa Island [“Knee-Deep in Doubt” by Patrick J. Kiger]. We already were planning this issue as a way to celebrate our ocean in all its glory, power, and sometimes fragile health. The Balboa Island story seemed a natural fit. For anyone who lives near the beach, it’s not an abstract discussion, but a black-and-white choice: to believe and make hard decisions now, or to disbelieve and risk losing everything.

The issue is highly charged and political. Skeptics suggest the climate change issue is manufactured by scientists eager to generate funding from an imaginary crisis. Doomsayers focus on who’s to blame and how to limit the slow-motion catastrophe. Regardless of what you believe about the causes of global warming—or even if you don’t believe it exists at all—the projections are scary. The sea could rise more than 4 feet by 2100? Think about that.

Make no mistake, we cherish the mighty Pacific. But in that plaintive email is the voice of someone who reviewed facts and best guesses, gauged her willingness to gamble, and decided to bail.

This truth, inconvenient or not, sure gives us pause.

Martin J. Smith

Illustration by John Ueland

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