The health of our regional economy depends on physical resilience. Southeast Florida is one of the most vulnerable areas in the world to climate change and sea level rise. In early 2009, representatives of several Southeast Florida counties and cities walked the halls of Congress to advocate for climate policy. After a few meetings with legislators it became evident that our region would need to move ahead of the federal government on this issue.
Why haven’t we seen any sea level rise yet?
We have. Boat captains in the Keys can tell you about it – but we’ve only seen 8 inches of rise over the last 100 years. From this point things will move more quickly. Estimates range from 9 inches by 2060 (not so bad) to 24 inches (quite dramatic).
Can’t we just build a levee?
While levees would help during storm events the slow rise of water may come up below our feet because of the porosity of our soils and substrata across much of the region.
The Effect of Rise
Since 2009 a great deal of work has been undertaken by many jurisdictions. However, each had slightly different baseline emissions figures at different points of time and different sea level rise planning scenarios. An opportunity to reconcile conflicting data and pool resources presented itself.
Realizing the necessity of a local effort paved the way for a unique arrangement – the Climate Compact- a voluntary and cooperative partnership among governing bodies to tackle what may be the most important issue of our generation. At the same time, this focused collaborative respects the diversity of the region and the autonomy of the many governing bodies.
The Compact began when elected officials representing each of the four counties hosted Regional Climate Leadership Summit later in 2009. This first summit led to the ratification of the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact in 2010, with unanimous votes of each County Commission. Since adoption, the four counties have used existing resources to support implementation of the Compact under the direction of a Compact Staff Steering Committee. Through Seven50, the northern counties of Martin, St. Lucie, and Indian River have become involved in the discussion, sparking the beginnings of a unified effort to protect our region in the way that best suits the needs of the community.
My home is on a lot with a higher elevation than the 2’ potential rise by 2050. Do I have anything to worry about?
Storm surge and flooding events on top of the 2’ of rise will have an exponential effect. Areas that have been dry before will see water during the hurricanes and flooding events.
It’s a historic start. The Climate Compact provides a groundwork for action, but there is a lot of difficult work ahead.
Just one-foot of sea level rise has serious implications for South east Florida. At three feet, the very existence of many areas would be threatened.
l Foot of Rise: Regionally, nearly 80 percent of the lands potentially affected in the one-foot scenario are conservation lands, especially coastal wetlands. Low-lying natural systems of buttonwood, mangrove, scrub mangrove, and herbaceous saltwater and freshwater wetlands would be significantly affected.
There are also many low-lying, high-investment areas that become vulnerable after just one-foot of rise. The upper estimate of current taxable property values in Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties vulnerable in the one-foot scenario is $4 billion. Three of Monroe’s four hospitals, 65 percent of schools and 71 percent of emergency shelters are located on property at elevations below sea level at the one foot scenario. Power plants in Miami-Dade and Broward as well as power lines in Monroe may be located in water.
Southeast Florida depends on canals to drain storm water into the ocean. Just six more inches of sea level rise could severely effect almost half the area’s flood control capacity unless the gravity-drained systems became more mechanized.
3 Feet of Rise: More than $31 billion in real estate and public investments become vulnerable in the three-foot rise scenario. Many barrier islands would require significant bulwarking to stay intact; others face the threat they may disappear. Communities near the Everglades would have to increase pumping dramatically to stay dry. Water rise in many canals would make neighborhoods enormously expensive to insure. The cost to repair storm damage due to flooding rises with the water. The entire region, even upland areas in the north, would be affected by the loss of coastal drinking water well fields due to saltwater intrusion.
The Climate Compact process provided climate change education, political consensus and a basis for action. However, the plan is not mandatory, and a higher elevation than implementation faces serious challenges including high costs.
There are more than 100 local governments in the region, each at varying stages of climate adaptation planning and implementation. Miami Beach is moving quickly to adapt out of necessity. Miami Beach will spend $200 million overhauling an aging drainage system with more pumps, higher sea walls, more storage for storm water runoff and back-flow preventers to keep seasonal high tides from flooding streets and neighborhoods.
How do we know the climate is changing?
This report uses as a reference the Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report produced in 2013 which involved over 250 Lead Authors, and over 600 Contributing Authors from over 32 countries.
I heard the IPCC report models are not always accurate and that the IPCC report contains unanswered questions.
Both are true. However the report says unequivocally that there is a 95% chance that human-generated emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are changing the climate.
Miami Beach leaders have sought advice from representatives from the Netherlands where much of the population already lives below sea level. The Dutch are kept safe and dry by towering natural sand dunes, 2,100 miles events on top of the of dams, dikes and locks and a vast pump system. However, unlike in the Netherlands, Southeast Florida’s geology allows water to rise up below the surface. Also, the various engineered systems of the Netherlands never have to face hurricanes.
Elevated roads and homes, storm water systems and around-the-clock pumping are not new to Southeast Florida. Western Broward and Miami-Dade counties were “underwater” in the 1850’s and were essentially part of the Everglades. These lands stay dry only by virtue of careful water management.
Other parts of the nation also require significant expenditures to keep them viable. The northeast relies on tremendous amounts of home heating oil and home insulation to survive the winters. The desert southwest must import water, desalinate water, and recycle water at tremendous cost. The Pacific coast lives under the shadow of catastrophic earthquakes and must routinely retrofit its buildings to survive seismic activity. Southeast Florida communities are just as worthy of preservation.
We have a long history of engineering our environment and weathering catastrophic storms and there are many lessons the region can learn from elsewhere. HUD’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Strategy, for instance, includes dozens of recommendations that will guide billions of dollars in federal investment to help the Sandy-impacted communities rebuild in a way that makes them better able to withstand future storms. Even with substantial investment our region will always remain vulnerable to climate change. The time for preventive preparation, like the kind we see in Miami Beach, is shortening.
Seven50 has worked to provide tools to identify areas of vulnerability by creating maps to visualize the locations most likely to face the impacts of climate change. Local and regional governments can use this information to make informed decisions and strategically determine their growth priorities.
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World Wide Collaboration
The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report provides a comprehensive assessment of the physical science basis of climate change, drawing on the scientific literature accepted for publication up to March 13, 2013. Below are some headline Statements from the Summary for Policymakers with the level of confidence expressed parenthetically:
“Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.
Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the earth’s surface than any preceding de- cade since 1850. In the Northern Hemisphere, 1983- 2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years (medium confidence).
Over the last two decades, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have been losing mass, glaciers have continued to shrink almost worldwide, and Arctic sea ice and northern hemisphere spring snow cover have continued to decrease in extent (high confidence).
The atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. CO2 concentrations have increased by 40% since pre- industrial times, primarily from fossil fuel emissions and secondarily from net land use change emissions.
Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and understanding of the climate system.
Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.”
How do we achieve a more diversified energy mix which generates less greenhouse gas emissions?
Florida Power and Light, our region’s energy provider, already has one of the lowest emission profiles in the nation. They made the switch from coal to natural gas.
As a region, in the next fifty years, what will the next switch be to?
South Florida is a logical choice for the usage of solar power, but it has struggled to reach its potential in the past, but many companies and organizations are looking to change this. Florida Power and Light has established three solar power plants in Florida, including one in Martin County. FPL also provides a net metering service, which allows individuals who install solar panels to sell their excess energy back to the company, reducing costs. Many solar energy advocacy groups have emerged, but the practice is still a difficult and costly transition. Up-front costs can be over $10,000 for single family-homes, and may be higher than $1 million for large commercial buildings. Under existing Florida laws however, only utility companies may provide energy to consumers, forcing solar companies to sell directly to utility companies, making it difficult for solar to be attractive to investors.
Biofuels contain energy derived from biomass, or any living or once-living biological material. Two of the most popular forms of biofuel include biodiesel and bioethanol, along with other bioalcohols. Biodiesel in particular has seen a rapid increase in usage, due to its decreased emissions, and greater efficiency. West Palm Beach based organic sugar company Florida Crystals uses the waste products of sugar production to fuel their own facility. The company also sells their energy to utility companies, and is working with FIU to develop technologies for more effective bioethanol production. As a major agricultural producer, South Florida has the potential to use biofuels effectively. The conversion of farmland to land for energy production is a controversial practice however, and must be carefully considered.
South Florida contains two nuclear power plants: Turkey Point in Miami-Dade County, and St. Lucie Nuclear Power Plant, operated by FPL. The capabilities of nuclear power have been well documented, and both public and private organizations are looking to make renewable energy in the form of nuclear a more viable option. The challenges of nuclear have also been well documented however, and have especially been highlighted as a result of international incidents. Nuclear energy is on the rise in Florida, and FPL is seeking to expand the Turkey Creek plant, increasing their usage of nuclear power.