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Climate change threatens Connecticut. Coastal communities are in the crosshairs

Long Island Sound has been an essential part of life along Connecticut’s shoreline for thousands of years. But climate change now poses a severe threat to both the communities and natural ecosystems along the coast.

Connecticut Public spent months traveling across the state’s largest natural resource. Cutline: Climate Change Along Connecticut's Coast explores the Sound’s historical and ecological importance, what changes coastal communities face and what needs to be done to protect them — and communities inland.

Here are some key takeaways from the show.

Long Island Sound is warming quickly, and sea levels are rising.

Over the next 80 years, sea levels are expected to rise in Long Island Sound between 2 feet, on the lower end, and 7 feet, on the higher end. The documentary examines Groton — the home of Mystic Seaport and Electric Boat — where officials said they expect 20 inches of sea level rise by 2050. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s flood projector shows what that could mean for coastal neighborhoods.

Storms and heat are hitting Connecticut hard.

Last year, Connecticut recorded its 10th-warmest year on record. Since 2010, there have been 12 federal disaster declarations in Connecticut due to severe weather, and state officials say those storms caused $443 million in damages eligible for FEMA assistance.

More frequent storms have also overwhelmed aging sewage treatment systems, which can lead to flooding that disproportionately impacts communities of color. The documentary also focuses on people who live in a neighborhood of Stratford that floods every time there’s torrential rain.

Sharon Lewis, executive director of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice, said “there’s no representation at the decision-making tables for those most impacted” by severe weather, extreme heat and flooding.

“Without having a place at the table, the people who are most impacted are always left behind,” Lewis said.

Connecticut’s consistently bad air quality — the result of prevailing winds and fossil fuel emissions — has also severely hit low-income people and communities of color. Ozone levels in the state have exceeded federal standards for years.

What can we do about it?

Experts say the most important thing is to limit greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale to prevent further damage from sea level rise.

Locally, there’s a lot of engineering that has to be done — hardening the shorelines, raising houses, upgrading sewage infrastructure and roads, and creating green infrastructure that actually works with nature to protect it.

But money remains a big challenge. Shoreline communities have to figure out how to fund those projects in a way that’s acceptable to taxpayers.

In other words, experts say, the easy part of combating climate change is figuring out what we have to do. The hard part is figuring out how to pay for it.

Cutline: Climate Change Along Connecticut's Coast premieres on CPTV on Thursday, Feb. 16, at 8 p.m. It will air again on CPTV on Sunday, Feb. 19, at 10 a.m. and Tuesday, Feb. 21, at 11 p.m. It will also air on CPTV Spirit on Saturday, Feb. 18, at 1 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 19, at 6 p.m. and Wednesday, Feb. 22, at 7 p.m.

Ryan Caron King joined Connecticut Public in 2015 as a reporter and video journalist. He was also one of eight reporters on the New England News Collaborative’s launch team, covering regional issues such as immigration, the environment, transportation, and the opioid epidemic.

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