Thomas Quattlebaum wants to change the way we talk about sea level rise. To start,
we need to move beyond doomsday scenarios. “If we move the conversation away from
scary scenarios and make it about making
our cities more resilient, better places to
live, we’ll have a much more fruitful conversation,” he says.
Quattlebaum joined CBF last December as
the organization’s first Sea Level Rise Fellow.
In his two-year appointment, Quattlebaum
is working to raise awareness about nature-based solutions to address recurrent flooding and sea level rise in Hampton Roads,
Virginia—a region experiencing some of the
fastest rates of sea level rise in the world.
Located at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay,
low-lying Hampton Roads is especially susceptible to flooding due to the dual problems
of sea level rise and sinking land. Since 1960,
the region has experienced a 325 percent
increase in “nuisance flooding” (flooding
that disrupts business and closes roads).
With a population of 1.7 million and an
expectation that climate change will cause
water levels to rise another three-to-seven
feet by the end of this century, the area is one
of the largest population centers at risk from
sea level rise in the country (second only to
As local and state leaders develop plans
to adapt, Quattlebaum is working to raise
awareness about nature-based or “green”
strategies that can make communities more
resilient, while helping to improve water
quality. For instance, to protect waterfront
property from storm surges, city planners
can invest in traditional “grey” solutions,
such as concrete sea walls, which may
hold back the rising tide but negatively
impact fragile ecosystems beneath the water.
Or, planners can see whether a nature-based solution can achieve the same goal.
Options such as living shorelines can often
protect land and hold flood water as effectively
as traditional “grey” methods—many times,
at a fraction of the cost. These natural options
offer the added benefits of providing habitat
for wildlife and filtering pollution, which
improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay.
Quattlebaum emphasizes that it isn’t a matter of “green” practices versus “grey.” Rather,
it’s a matter of looking at each situation and
finding the right solution—or combination
Quattlebaum’s work comes thanks to a
generous grant from the blue moon fund, a
private foundation based in Charlottesville,
Virginia. blue moon fund has a history
of helping coastal communities improve
their resilience to climate change. After
If we move the conversation away from scary scenarios
and make it about making our cities better places to live,
we’ll have a much more fruitful conversation.
CHRIS GORRI/CBF STAFF
Local Solutions to a Global Problem
Climate Change, Sea Level Rise, and Hampton Roads
By Melanie McCarty