Sea Level Rise and Vulnerability in Coastal Georgia: the Case for Critical Physical Geography

Authors: Eric Spears*, Columbus State University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Hazards and Vulnerability, Coastal and Marine
Keywords: Sea Level Rise (SLR), vulnerability, critical physical geography, race, class
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 7
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Sea Level Rise (SLR) is a growing concern on Georgia’s coastline. SLR research on Georgia's 100 miles of Atlantic coast often focuses on infrastructural resilience or economic impact. Little geographic research, however, has been given to the anticipated effects of SLR on race and class. The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports global sea level is 6.6 cm above 1993’s average and that oceans continue to rise at a rate of .32cm per year. Brunswick, Georgia is very vulnerable to SLR given it is only 3.0m to 4.3m above sea level. The small city’s 84 km² (32 square miles) is home to a modest 15,291 people but is very dynamic in its coastal and political ecologies. Brunswick is a 'minority majority' city with fifty-six percent of its population classified as African-American and thirty-seven percent as in poverty (US Census). Many of these low-income minorities live in low-lying, flood-prone areas of the coastal city. Most applied research on Brunswick's coastline addresses SLR’s effects on affluent barrier islands rather than its economically disadvantaged African-American and Hispanic communities. A critical examination of how physical geography and uneven development intersect is fundamental to addressing Georgia's coastal vulnerabilities. This critical research argues that SLR hazards and risks are as much socially constructed as they are physically constituted through a complex interrelationship of historical materialism, present-day uneven development, geomorphology, and climate change.

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