The Florida Keys disappearing by the year 2100?
That's the pronouncement from a national environmental group this week, warning that South Florida is among the most vulnerable areas of the country to climate change and sea level rise.
The sea is rising, but it’s rising slowly enough so that too few people get alarmed, say climate scientists. It’s a slow march upward 5-10 feet, says all the science, that will happen over the next 100 years or so.
"And so we would be utter fools not to attempt to arrest this while we have a fighting chance,” said University of Miami scientist John Van Leer, who has been researching climate change since the 1980’s, before almost all his colleagues.
So this new warning from the Natural Resources Defense Council, which is a review of more than 75 scientific studies warning us about the future of South Florida, is the same warning he and his colleagues have been raising for years.
So what are the impacts that many scientists have found are already happening in South Florida, in part, because of climate change?
- An increase in diseases like dengue fever is already underway
- Seafood is becoming less plentiful
- Our valuable coral reefs are already dying at alarming rates
- Our drinking water supply is becoming infused with seawater intruding on the underground aquifer
- We’re seeing more frequent extreme weather events, like heavy rains or wildfires caused by drought, consistent with climate change
- Our coastline is eroding at a greater and greater pace especially during storms
- Agriculture harvests are more challenged, often leading to increased prices
- Stronger hurricanes
In recent years, science has lurched toward finding ways to adapt to climate change. But does that mean less scientific research on how to slow climate change? Van Leer says we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as prepare for rising seas.
"We have to do both things,” he said. “I mean, how will you live in a high rise condo when the feet of the high rise are in seawater?"
Van Leer says new buyers of coastal property will be able to complete their mortgage payoffs. But not long after that, re-selling may become more difficult as future buyers begin to hedge their bets fearing increasing difficulty in re-selling to others.
The University of Miami’s own maps predicting future sea level rise show most of South Florida under water within 100 years, including the Florida Keys. Such predictions are incredibly difficult, Van Leer says, so there is a wide range between worst case scenario and best case scenario. However, as more science research is done around the world, the pace shows climate change worsening at an accelerated rate.
So what will the next generation say about present day inaction?
"Their reaction would be 'I can't believe you guys didn't take it seriously when you had the chance,’" Van Leer said.
Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe Counties formed an innovative climate change alliance focusing on preparing for these challenges: moving flood gates and pumps, figuring out which roads will be inundated first, protecting drinking water wells for as long as possible, etc.
The NRDC report and others like it say slowing climate change must come at all levels of government – especially local - as well as from companies and individuals.
To see the report: http://www.nrdc.org/water/thirstyforanswers.asp.