Floridians Wonder How President-Elect Trump Will Deal With Their Rising Seas

Florida chose climate-change skeptic Donald Trump as their presidential candidate, but the threat of climate change is already a reality in parts of the state.

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Nov 14 2016, 6:18pm

Image: Zak Bennett

Mar-a-Lago, President-elect Donald Trump's signature piece of property in the South, is just 70-miles north of Miami in Palm Beach, a mostly upscale barrier island. But the residence and private club is likely to be affected by the rising tides and increasingly powerful hurricanes that now regularly batter the coast of Florida.

Miami and nearby coastal towns in Florida are, and will be, impacted by changes in our climate—the sea levels in just the past decade rose at double the rate of the entire century before, according to the World Resource Institute. But in the end, Floridians chose noted climate change-skeptic Donald Trump as their future leader.

That's partly because the environment is not a deciding factor for many voters, according to a Pew Center report. But it's also because not everyone thinks the government has a role in climate change, at least not right now.

Scientists say Florida has a lot to lose in the onset of climate change aside from luxury, waterfront properties. Temperatures will rise from 3°F to 7°F , and the sea level will rise from 8 to 23 inches by 2099 in the southeastern United States, according to studies by The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations-affiliate which includes international, independent scientists.

Construction takes place at Maurice Gibb Memorial Park in Miami Beach, Fla amid floods. Image: Zak Bennett

Local resident Camille Santiago, a left-leaning voter, has an array of worries regarding climate change effects on Miami. She's frustrated that the election was primarily focused on personal attacks rather than real issues.

"I honestly think people themselves don't acknowledge that climate change is going to affect our coastal areas," Santiago told me. "I'm expecting it to be massively worse with Donald Trump in office, but we need to change our behavior as individuals because that is all we can do. We can't control the corporations and we will need to rise above his (Trump's) denial."

In addition to Santiago's general fear of what global warming has in store, she says she needs to regularly worry about her car getting stuck in flooded streets, traffic delays due to flooding, and a surge in mosquito populations following flooding.

It's a costly problem. Miami has already allocated $500 million for installing pumps and raising the roadways. The pumps help thrust sitting water from the streets into Biscayne Bay. And the raising of the streets is noticeable here, as people are now walking on roadways that are several feet higher than before.

Construction takes place at Maurice Gibb Memorial Park, frequently victim to heavy flooding, especially during king tides. Image: Zak Bennett

President-elect Trump has repeatedly said that canceling climate change funding would be one of his immediate actions upon becoming POTUS. He has expressed a desire to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency, the government agency tasked with implementing regulations to secure the environment. And he said he will cancel the billions in payments to U.N. climate change programs and leave the Paris Agreement.

Trump supporter Michael Kagdis, a Palm Beach resident, has photos on his Instagram of election night at the Mar-a-Lago. Kagdis, unlike his candidate, recognized climate change as a definite threat, but he agrees that it should not be a priority for Trump once in office.

"I believe that there are so many other immediate threats that I don't think it (climate change) makes the top 10," Kagdis explained to Motherboard. "We've had problems with domestic terrorism here in Florida, most recently during the Orlando shootings, and that costs a lot of money."

Kagdis went on to say, "I fully understand the nobleness of looking 40 years into the future, but we are not doing a good job regarding the issues that are at the front door."

A photo of South Beach Kayak's Michael Sherman paddle boarding during flooding in Miami Beach. Image: Zak Bennett

In Florida, some of these issues are already at the front door. Businesses and homes are now left sitting in a soup bowl under the raised streets. And the combination of this tropical climate and flooding makes it harder to ward off tropical disease. Dade County expects to spend $12 million on fighting the Zika virus by the end of next month. The Zika virus is currently being spread due to stagnant flood waters in South Florida.

Read more: Zika Is Driving Miami into Debt

It's not just Trump leading a crusade against climate change action. Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a potential pick for Trump's cabinet, has been skeptical of global warming, and his administration had reportedly even banned the words "climate change", according to the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.

Still, Floridians hope that the future president will recognize climate change—especially when it gets personal. "It is inevitable that President Trump will have to recognize the fact that his much beloved properties are at immediate risk," said Ramsay Stevens, a South Florida-based clean energy entrepreneur and consultant who volunteered for Hillary Clinton.

"It's also important to note that while a Trump Presidency may eliminate any current government support for clean energy, the policies of the Obama administration were largely focused on creating and incubating private market capacity."

Ramsay, a clean energy consultant, said South Florida can no longer deny climate change. Image: Zak Bennett

That means the private sector has to assume responsibility for saving the climate, Stevens said, without depending on the US government to provide solutions. The MIT Technology Review in 2014 reported that $44 trillion between now and 2050 would be needed to battle climate change, and all of the governments in the world combined can not and will not match that under any proposed budgets.

Meanwhile, Florida is on the path to becoming one of the country's most visible victims of climate change. And the change doesn't just impact humans: Just a seven inch rise in seas will affect nearly 60,000 acres of the Florida Keys where endangered Key Deer live, according to The Nature Conservancy. And the Everglades risk becoming uninhabitable for already threatened Florida Panthers. As the sea temperatures rise, toxic algaes will breed such as red tide, killing manatees.

With an entire ecosystem at risk, it remains to be seen whether or not Trump will abandon the government's current environmental safeguards, or put new ones in place. But for now, Floridians are left to balance the science and politics with what is happening in their own neighborhoods.

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