In My Opinion

Fred Grimm: Rising seas? Geezer pols will be dead by then

Because I’ll be dead.

Not the most forward looking credo, kicking the coffin down the road, but it’s the unspoken subtext when politicians refuse to acknowledge a disastrous inevitability. Last week, when U.S. House Speaker John Boehner called White House initiatives to curb carbon dioxide emissions “absolutely crazy,” he was really saying that short-term sacrifices to stave off global warming aren’t worth contemplating for a political strategist looking no further than the next election. Because he and his climate-denying colleagues, most of them of a certain crotchety generation, will be dead before their progeny face the consequences.

When Rick Scott said, “I’ve not been convinced that there’s any man-made climate change. Nothing’s convinced me that there is,” the 60-year-old Florida governor was really just suggesting he can muddle through the next few years as a climate denier pol because by the time South Florida is inundated by rising seas, he’ll be buried and forgotten.

But maybe not. The current issue of Rolling Stone, in an article entitled, "Goodbye Miami," suggests that the ruinous effects of sea level changes will be plenty obvious by the time Scott turns 75.

The article draws on a number of recent studies warning that the thermal expansion of the oceans, together with the melting of glaciers and polar ice sheets, will bring havoc to Miami and environs much sooner than climate scientists thought just five years ago.

The latest dismal report came from the federal government’s own National Climate Assessment in January, which warned that the soaring heat index in the southeast U.S. (2012 was the warmest year on record) would saddle the likes of South Florida with salt-water intrusion, disappearing cropland, increased ground-level ozone with accompanying respiratory illnesses, more mosquitoes and tropical diseases, more extreme weather. And, of course, an impinging ocean.

Rolling Stones contributing editor Jeff Goodell writes, “The unavoidable truth is that sea levels are rising and Miami is on its way to becoming an American Atlantis.”

Goodell warns, “It may be another century before the city is completely underwater (though some more-pessimistic scientists predict it could be much sooner), but life in the vibrant metropolis of 5.5 million people will begin to dissolve much quicker, most likely within a few decades. The rising waters will destroy Miami slowly, by seeping into wiring, roads, building foundations and drinking-water supplies — and quickly, by increasing the destructive power of hurricanes.”

Goodell talked to climate scientists, including Harold Wanless, the chairman of the department of geological sciences at the University of Miami, who told him, “Miami, as we know it today, is doomed.” And there’s now a depressing number of peer-reviewed studies on sea-level rise supporting his pessimism.

And Goodell talked to a number of South Florida civil engineers, who’re already struggling with failing stormwater drainage systems, salt-water encroachment and low-lying infrastructure. He cites the Turkey Point nuclear power plant, America’s Fukushima-to-be, set on the vulnerable edge of Biscayne Bay. But maybe the stink of a South Florida sewage system rendered inoperable by higher sea levels will have driven us all away before Turkey Point goes gafooey.

Local governments and their civil engineers in Miami-Dade and Broward are plenty scared already, scurrying about in semi-panic mode, worried about well fields and septic tanks and flooded streets and backflowing canals and overflowing sea walls. They know that as far as global warming goes, South Florida’s six million residents, most of them situated barely above sea level, are the canaries in the coal mine. In 2030 or 2040, when global warming has become a real nuisance elsewhere in the U.S., we’re liable to be treading water.

But concerned scientists and engineers and local civic leaders working frantically to preempt a surefire disaster exist in a separate universe from state and congressional Republican leaders — and their buddies in the fossil-fuel industry — who find all this warming stuff to be terribly inconvenient to political careers and profit margins.

Of course, most of them figure to miss the worst effects. They’ll be dead.

They reflect this strange generational disconnect when it comes to global warming. A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press last fall found that respondents 65 and older (my people) were “far less likely to think that warming is mostly because of human activity.” Among us old farts, 28 percent worried that this was the case, compared to 47 percent of those under 50. Just 29 percent of the oldsters thought global warming was a “very serious problem.”

Why would they express themselves otherwise? Global warming comes with a very expensive, long-range fix. It would require lots of taxpayer money and years of sacrifice to stave off disaster. Folks of my generation have made the self-serving decision to believe this global warming, sea-level stuff comes out of some bizarre conspiracy, entailing 98 percent of the world’s global scientists. A majority of my aging fellows would rather ignore the letter sent to the U.S. Senate urging action on carbon emissions, signed by 2,026 prominent U.S. economists and climate scientists, including eight Nobel laureates, 32 National Academy of Sciences members, 11 MacArthur “genius award” winners, and three National Medal of Science recipients.

My peers, and their gray-haired elected representatives, don’t have much use for the long view. Other than the occasional F5 tornado, or years-long drought or weird frequency of 100-year floods and record-breaking forest fires, my generation can simply disregard warnings about truly awful future consequences of global warming. Like the destruction of Miami.

Because, by the time the waves are breaking over Biscayne Boulevard, with a little luck, we’ll be dead and pushing up daisies.

Make that seaweed.

Read more Fred Grimm stories from the Miami Herald

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