If you think concerns about climate change are overblown, or if you have it in your head that global warming is still an abstract concept, go down to Florida. "In the past century, the sea has risen 9 inches in Key West. In the past 23 years, it’s risen 3 inches. By 2060, it’s predicted to rise another 2 feet, with no sign of slowing down," reports an editorial that ran in South Florida's major newspapers Friday. It's the kind of climate warning that terrifies the reader just by listing facts:
It’s not just a matter of how much land we’re going to lose, though the barrier islands and low-lying communities will be largely uninhabitable once the ocean rises by 3 feet. It’s a matter of what can be saved. And elsewhere, how we’re going to manage the retreat.
You see the evidence several times a year in Miami Beach, the finger isles of Fort Lauderdale and along the Intracoastal Waterway in Delray Beach. During king tides on sunny days, seawater bubbles up through storm drains and over seawalls into lawns, streets and storefronts. That didn’t happen 20 years ago, but it’s going to happen more and more.
The editorial is part of a package called the Invading Sea that is a collaboration between the Miami Herald, the Palm Beach Post, and the Sun-Sentinel, with reporting help from public radio station WLRN. All of those outlets—and many more—have been banging on the climate change drum for years, but the collaboration represents a new level of urgency.
The problem isn't just that the sea is rising, which could result in falling home prices, health problems for residents, and eventually daily flooded streets in Miami. The problem is that while some coastal counties and businesses are taking sea rise seriously, Republican ideologues at the top of the state and federal governments are ignoring it. Florida governor Rick Scott made some vague noises about thinking about climate change after 2017's Hurricane Irma, but he's still the same guy who a few years ago reportedly banned officials at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection from using the terms "climate change" and "global warming." His inaction on the issue prompted a suit last month from eight children who accused the governor of “deliberate indifference." (Scott is now running for US Senate.)
Florida's other prominent Republican politician, Senator Marco Rubio, isn't any better—at a 2016 presidential debate, he responded to a question about climate change from Miami Republican Mayor Tomás Regalado by basically shrugging at the notion government had any role in mitigating the effects of rising temperatures. Donald Trump is even more blasé: Last year he signed an executive order telling agencies they didn't need to consider rising sea levels when building infrastructure, a reversal of an Obama-era order.
The editorial from the Ivading Sea emphasizes that Florida officials think the state isn't doomed: "Though our region is certain to be reshaped, they express confidence that we can adapt if we start planning now to raise roads, elevate buildings, update the region’s 70-year-old flood control system, buy out flood-prone properties and make smart choices about what to save and where to invest."
But for those policies to be enacted someone actually has to enact them. This should be easier than it is, and it's maddening that it's still a debate. Republican politicians in Florida don't need to trust the words of scientists, they just need to walk down to the coast and take a look at the water that is coming for them.
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