Confront rising sea levels now, not later

 

Curtis Morgan’s enlightening Sept. 2 story, Rising sea comes at a cost for South Florida cities, described the huge costs of protecting against continuing sea-level rise. I commend Miami Beach’s leaders for having the courage to address the infrastructure investments needed to protect their city.

Morgan’s article reports that these installations could eventually cost billions, perhaps tens or hundreds of billions, of dollars. Life in South Florida could be severely altered within the coming decades unless infrastructure modifications are made soon. This is today’s problem, and it will not wait for our grandchildren’s generation as many hoped.

Last October, we went back to the future when seasonal leap tides combined with prevailing onshore winds to raise sea level temporarily by about two feet. Seawater backed up through the storm drains onto the back streets of Miami Beach, Hollywood, Fort Lauderdale and Pompano Beach. To make things worse, large swaths of interior Miami-Dade and Broward counties were flooded because of three straight days of torrential rains, as much as 16 inches in some areas. With the seas up, billions of gallons of stormwater could not be released to an elevated ocean through the otherwise efficient flood-control systems.

It was proven again that water doesn’t flow uphill, unless it’s pumped. Similar to Louisiana during Hurricanes Katrina and Isaac, it took days for tides to recede and flood waters in many coastal and inland areas to subside. Before our eyes was a glimpse into a future with the horrendous effects of heavy rains in combination with sea level rise.

Sea-level rise is creeping up on us, little by little, and sooner or later it will eventually overwhelm local adaptation efforts unless our nation and the other developed and developing nations take dramatic steps to adopt alternative ways of using and producing energy. Sea-level rise could be limited to two feet with an aggressive global energy conversion strategy. South Florida and most coastal regions could be saved. Otherwise, with sea-level rise of one foot to two feet in 50 years and as much as five feet to six feet and increasing by the end of the century, South Florida and other low-lying coastal areas are likely to lose it all.

It’s about time we abandoned unsubstantiated denials. Recently, Richard A. Muller, a renowned professor of physics at the University of California Berkeley and long-time critic of climate science, set out to disprove global warming, but instead he convinced himself that it’s real and human-caused. This confirmed what most climate scientists and scientific institutions have been saying for years. Interestingly, Muller’s research is sponsored by the Koch Foundation, which is funded from oil and petrochemicals and has backed many climate-change denial groups. It’s time we all faced reality and got on with what has to be done.

Barry N. Heimlich, Hollywood

Barry N. Heimlich is a research affiliate at the Center for Environmental Studies at Florida Atlantic University, a member of the Broward County Climate Change Task Force, and a member of the Science Workgroup of the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact

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