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Council flubs (again) on sea level rise

March 5, 2017

Recent research in the USA by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology has found that, contrary to popular opinion, resistance to scientific evidence of global warming is not the result of poor education. Indeed, climate change sceptics are often well educated and keenly interested in science. They do however process information in a very different manner. While scientists (and rational policy makers) tend to make decisions based on data, sceptics tend to make decisions in ways designed to protect their personal beliefs.

This might be the only possible explanation of the otherwise inexplicable recent decision by the majority of Councilors on the Shoalhaven City Council (SCC) to again reject the professional advice of their own external expert consultants as to the levels of projected future sea level rise to be used for planning purposes in the Shoalhaven. In doing so, they also rejected the advice of their own General Manager and his professional staff, the CSIRO, as well as a submission signed by ten community members of the SCC Natural Resources and Floodplain Management Committee.

The seven Councilors who voted to maintain the current unrealistic planning projections (Watson, Proudfoot, Pakes, Guile, Kitchener, White, Wells) used their bloc vote to defeat those Councillors who favoured a more realistic sea level rise projection (Levett, Cheyne, Gartner, Aldrick, Findlay and Pigg). Jo Gash was absent.

Councillor Guile has publically defended his stand by stating that he was making a “pragmatic decision to the benefit of every resident of the Shoalhaven”. He might want to explain these benefits to the residents of Sussex Inlet, who will be pondering on their likely longer future property values as they study the sobering fact that much of their area will lie under water in a few decades, if projections and information provided to Council by the Australian Government is correct. See: https://coastadapt.com.au/sea-level-rise-information-all-australian-coastal-councils#NSW_SHOALHAVEN:
The practical impact of this SCC decision will potentially be far reaching, as it will flow onto the SCC Revised Coastal Hazard Review planning. This will mean that SCC will be able to approve inappropriate developments in coastal zones that will put at risk public safety and increase public exposure to coastal hazards. This will include inappropriate sub-divisions, storm surge and catchment high tide flooding, and even proper standards for new construction foundations.

The issue of SCC sea level rise policy is primarily an issue of risk management for the companies, investors and homeowners in the Shoalhaven. Council’s current policy somehow heroically assumes that sea level rise in the Shoalhaven will be much less than elsewhere along the coast of New South wales, where other Councils have adopted sea rise projections up to three times greater than has SCC.

At the very least, the SCC policy insufficiently acknowledges the risks and hazards to infrastructure, property and the natural environment of predicted sea level rise. It should not be a matter decided by personal ideology but by fact based decision making.

As Hank Paulson, the former USA Republican treasury secretary (and unmistakably a conservative), said: “taking a cautiously conservative stance – that is, waiting for more information before acting – is actually taking a very radical risk”.

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