Water Conservation

The Florida coastline is at risk due to climate change and rising sea levels.

Rising Sea Levels Threaten South Florida

Imagine this: Rising sea levels threaten South Florida as residents and businesses fight to protect their property, worried they are victims of a worst-case, global warming scenario.

Sound like the opening scene of a science fiction film? Not for the people of Miami Beach. For them, it’s already becoming a reality.

Business owners along Alton Road in Miami Beach told the New York Times in a recent article that they have observed flooding on sunny days numerous times. Laundromat owner Eliseo Toussaint said he saw seawater seep from the gutter and flood the street.

A salesman who works down the street said he keeps plastic bags and rubber bands handy to traverse the often-flooded walk between the parking lot and the electronics store where he works.

These stories would not surprise members of the National Climate Assessment and Development Committee (NCADC), which recently finished the third National Climate Assessment.

Part of the NCADC assessment found that Florida’s coastal areas, particularly in South Florida, are going to feel the impact of rising sea levels brought on by global warming sooner than most other areas.

Florida, Climate Change and Rising Water

The rising sea levels in FloridaLeonard Berry, a co-author of the report and director of the Florida Center for Environmental Studies at Florida Atlantic University, told the Times the major theme of the report is “climate change is not a future thing, it’s a happening-now thing. Alton Road is one of the now things.” The writing of the report was overseen by the NCADC, which has 60 members and is supported through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The committee is chaired by Jerry Melillo, director emeritus of the Ecosystems Center of Marine Biology Laboratory at Woods Hole, Mass., and a biology professor at Brown University.

Committee Says Global Warming Is Real and Caused by Humans

The committee is made up of a mixture of academics, medical doctors, environmental leaders and those from private industry, including representatives from companies such as Monsanto, Zurich Financial Services and ConocoPhillips.

In its executive summary, the committee dispels any notion climate change is not real: “Climate change is already affecting the American people. Certain types of weather events have become more frequent and/or intense, including heat waves, heavy downpours, and, in some regions, floods and droughts. Sea level is rising, oceans are becoming more acidic, and glaciers and arctic sea ice are melting.

“These changes are part of the pattern of global climate change, which is primarily driven by human activity.”

The committee notes that evidence about climate change has been gathered by scientists and engineers around the world, using instruments such as satellites, weather balloons, thermometers and buoys.

“The sum total this evidence tells an unambiguous story: the planet is warming.”

Millions at Risk in Miami

The Miami Herald has published an article by Ben Strauss, director of the Program on Sea Level Rise at Climate Central, an independent organization of scientists and journalists who research and write about climate change. Strauss wrote that 2.4 million people and 1.3 million homes along the coast in the Miami area are just four feet above the local high tide line. Those numbers account for about half the homes at risk along the United States coastline – particularly if there is a storm surge.

Further, many South Floridians are already experiencing problems as salt water seeps into the porous bedrock under the city, contaminating coastal water supplies.

Solutions are not easy in South Florida where the building of sea walls and levees is difficult, Strauss wrote, but added that the problem needs to be addressed in a serious way, and soon.

High Tide on Main Street

In his book, “High Tide on Main Street,” John Englander correctly predicted a storm much like Hurricane Sandy which hit New York City in 2012. In his updated edition, Englander goes on to predict that sea levels will rise over the next 1,000 years (after 6,000 years of staying at about the same level).

Englander, an oceanographer, writes that the economic impacts of rising sea levels will happen long before the land goes underwater, as people become skittish about investing their money in property on the coast. He also projects a possibility of “catastrophic” sea level rise this century.

Part of the problem is ignorance among the masses about the potential for the problem, plus the lack of leadership on the issue, Englander wrote in the book’s forward.

“Over the next decade or two, our largely coastal-oriented civilization is about the get a real-world lesson in geology and oceanography,” Englander wrote. “Rising sea level will have catastrophic, far-reaching effects for many, many generations.”

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