The truest measure of any society, or any person, is the willingness to protect a future they will never personally experience.
Call it what you will — caring for others, having a conscience, paying it forward — but this is precisely what defines and motivates the best in all of us. This is especially true when the cause is universal, the effects are close to home and the outcome is uncertain.
Today, we are all facing another test of will and determination.
Rising sea levels, reflecting a rapidly changing and unpredictable climate, now pose a current and future threat to coastal cities from Miami Beach and New York to London and Tokyo.
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As the waters rise, rest assured they won’t ask whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat; conservative or liberal; white, black or Hispanic.
So instead of self-serving demonizing and demagoguing that tears us apart, let’s work together to find remedies and answers that serve others. Instead of conjecturing about things we don’t know, let’s focus on things we do. Here are four truths:
Fact: Climate change is affected by human behavior and misbehavior, affirmed by leading scientists and experts from the National Academy of Sciences and NASA to the American Meteorological Society, Army Corps of Engineers and United Nations.
Fact: We can debate how much greenhouse gases affect weather, sea levels and human health, but not whether they do at all.
Fact: Sea levels along America’s East Coast are projected to rise three to four times faster than the global average over the next century, and rising water levels around Miami Beach — a barrier island built over natural mangrove wetlands — are causing increased street and property flooding.
Fact: If we do nothing, we have only ourselves to blame, and the “something” many fear becomes more likely.
In Miami Beach, the frequency of flooding has increased, and it’s not uncommon to see parked cars inundated by quickly rising flood waters, pedestrians walking barefoot through knee-high waters, or even property flooding on a day full of sunshine.
We must weather the storm surges, and scientific studies predict extreme weather events such as storms, floods and hurricanes will increase in frequency and intensity.
Although extreme impacts from these threats may still be a few decades away, Miami Beach is moving today — and together — to fight back.
As mayor, beyond the personal and financial security of our residents, and the health of the local economy, this is my biggest priority.
In the short term, we have developed a three- to five-year plan built around the installation of 60 pump stations and one-way flex valves throughout our city.
This initiative is already paying dividends. During our annual King Tide, where sea levels reach peak elevation, and when historically certain Miami Beach streets are flooded, this year streets in the lowest areas were repaired and dry — one very positive step in a long journey in our ongoing battle.
Moving forward, over time we intend to raise roads, sidewalks and other infrastructures; impose stricter development regulations providing higher finished floor elevations; and create additional storage areas for collecting storm water.
To reduce our carbon footprint caused by the release of greenhouse gases, the city will lead its residents by example through increased investments in multi-modal mass transit, better pedestrian and bicycle flow and energy efficiency.
We’re getting smarter by the day in knowing the questions that must be asked.
There’s nothing I won’t do, no place I won’t go, to seek the answers to one of the greatest challenges society as we know it has ever confronted.
As Great Britain faced an impending invasion during World War II, Winston Churchill said, “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”
These words still guide us today, in the fight to secure our future.
Philip Levine is mayor of Miami Beach.