Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Water in our shoes

 

OUR OPINION: A Senate hearing on Miami Beach puts spotlight on rising sea levels

 
FLOODED STREETS: Miami Beach resident, Ben Ponds, wades through the flooded streets along Alton Road on October 17, 2013. For a third day in row, streets in parts of Miami Beach flooded with nary a raindrop insight. The water came from the autum high tides which caused canals, rivers and coastlines to flood without any rain.
FLOODED STREETS: Miami Beach resident, Ben Ponds, wades through the flooded streets along Alton Road on October 17, 2013. For a third day in row, streets in parts of Miami Beach flooded with nary a raindrop insight. The water came from the autum high tides which caused canals, rivers and coastlines to flood without any rain.
Hector Gabino / EL NUEVO HERALD

HeraldEd@MiamiHerald.com

For South Floridians, the topics of climate change and rising sea levels are no longer to be dismissed as tree-hugger mumbo-jumbo.

Pause next time you hear that parts of Miami Beach or the intersection of A1A and Las Olas Boulevard have flooded because of … high tides?

Let the light go off atop your head: It’s science, stupid.

On Tuesday, Florida Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson brought illumination to Miami Beach — Ground Zero for our unique coastal battle with Mother Nature.

Nelson hosted a standing-room-only meeting of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation at Miami Beach City Hall. The topic: “Leading the Way: Adapting to South Florida’s Changing Coastline.” He wanted to know how the vulnerable barrier island that is Miami Beach, and other coastal cities in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, are bracing for storm surge, beach erosion, saltwater contamination — all largely accelerated by global warming.

If many of his fellow senators don’t buy the premise, Mr. Nelson does, and he’s right to do so. South Floridians should commend him for holding the meeting, where he was the only one asking the questions.

The topics of global warming and climate change continue to be surrounded by skepticism — some dismiss them as hocus-pocus, others know that they are serious challenges that must be confronted.

Mr. Nelson’s meeting came on the heels of a report earlier this month by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which warns the world is facing environmental catastrophe because of global warming.

Already, high-profile scientists have released their own report, debunking much of the IPCC report.

While they quibble, there is no doubt that South Florida is seeing higher-than-high seasonal tides that now spill into waterfront city streets. If you’re a long-time local resident, you know you’ve never see this before. So what’s causing it? How else to explain it?

Those testifying — front-liners including a NASA scientist, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, Broward Commissioner Kristin Jacobs and an insurance analyst — gave dire predictions. They all agree on a forecast a three-foot rise in seas by the beginning of the next century, which means $4 billion in taxable property lost.

The biggest problem for his city, Mr. Levine testified, is the high-tide flooding that can cripple parts of his city by putting it several inches underwater in hours. It happened in October.

He painted a disjointed scene for Sen. Nelson: “On a beautiful sunny day, we can see our streets flooded.”

South Florida’s counties — which often keep out of each other’s business — have joined forces to ward off the ocean waters and have formed a “climate compact” to help each other and avoid duplicating efforts. When the flooding begins, it will ignore county lines.

We could not agree more that the problem of preserving coastal communities is something we must address together — and with urgency. Outside Sen. Nelson’s hearing, global-warming protesters warned that we’re moving too slowly. They’ve got a point.

South Florida owes Sen. Nelson its thanks for shining a bright light on this issue. Everyone from local residents to elected officials should follow his lead, turning awareness of this major environmental issue into action. It is critical to saving our region.

If we don’t, we’ll soon have water — not sand — in our shoes.

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