One of the country’s favorite Spring Break destinations is facing an uncertain future. The longest maintained tide stations in the state indicate that seas at Florida shores have risen 8 to 9.5 inches per 100 years. High tides alone are frequently flooding low-lying areas. Four hundred football field’s worth of sand disappears each year from the beaches we love. The Army Corps of Engineers has found that there is no longer enough replacement sand onshore, making it necessary to import it at an estimated cost of $32 million by 2017.
The sophisticated system of canals and drainage systems that made coastal beach communities possible are becoming less effective as seawater makes its way up the canals. Salt water is contaminating drinking wells and beaches. According to a Florida Atlantic University study, with just a few inches of additional sea level rise, the drainage system could see its capacity drop by 70 percent as ocean water makes its way into the pipes. Miami is considering a $200 million renovation for pumps and pipes.
Is Congress getting its head out of the sand?
Although the federal government has been slow to respond to climate change – and far too many members of Congress have their heads in the sand when it comes to the consequences of climate change – the challenges communities like those in South Florida are facing are becoming undeniable. Elected leaders on the national stage are beginning to realize the need to learn more and to help meet these challenges.
That’s why Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) is using his Spring Break to hold a public hearing of the U.S. Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Science and Space at the Miami Beach City Hall. Witnesses will discuss the economic impacts of climate change to Florida’s tourism and insurance industries, as well as efforts to reduce the carbon emissions that drive climate change. Scientists from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and Florida Atlantic University will discuss sea level rise projections. The representatives of local Chamber of Commerce, insurance industry, and local officials will discuss the costs they face and the steps they are taking to respond.
Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Broward County Mayor Kristin Jacobs will talk about the innovative Southeast Florida Regional Climate Action Plan to tackle climate change and the ways the federal government can help. The action plan includes a greenhouse gas emissions registry for Southeast Florida and strategies for coordinated emission reductions. It also guides coordinated regional adaptation measures based on local sea level rise projections and increased local impacts from tropical storms.
Partners needed: Preparing for climate realities and reducing risk
Florida’s community leaders take seriously their responsibility to get it right, not just for their residents, but for the rest of the country, too. They know that eventually, coastal communities, whether in Portland, Maine, or Malibu, California, will be looking to them to see how to handle critical decisions about how to adapt to sea level rise over the coming years.
When President Obama launched the federal Climate Action Plan, he tapped Kristin Jacobs, mayor of Broward County in South Florida, and other mayors, governors, and tribal leaders to serve on a task force to consider how best to support localities in their resilience efforts. In an NPR interview, Mayor Jacobs said, “As long as we are accepting what the future looks like and addressing it, not just from the local standpoint, but with our state partners and our federal partners, I believe this country is going to get to where it needs to go, but I think it starts locally, and it is that engine that’s driving this process forward.”
It is good to see one of Florida’s U.S. senators becoming a partner to his state’s leadership in resilience planning and reducing the risks of climate change. But all members of Congress represent communities that are challenged in some way by heat waves, or stronger North Atlantic hurricanes, sea level rise, and other climate consequences.
In the upcoming congressional recesses — Memorial Day, Independence Day and most of August — will other members of Congress take their heads out of the sand and partner with local leaders to make our country more resilient?