Miami Tackles Sea Level Rise in Absence of State Leadership

Guest Blog | April 2, 2014 | Climate Change, Energy Policy
In recent blogs, I expressed my surprise and disappointment in our lack of state-wide clean energy policy solutions in Florida to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change. Since then I have been fortunate to attend some amazing meetings hosted by the Sea Level Rise Task Force of Miami Dade County. The seven-member panel, made up of experts in fields ranging from climatology and civil engineering to banking and real estate, is tasked with recommending ways to prepare the County for the expected rise in sea levels due to climate change. The County is also working concurrently with the SE Regional Climate Change Compact on adapting for climate impacts, including SLR.

Miami-Dade County is in a region of action when it comes to tackling the impacts from a changing climate.  It’s been inspiring to observe those already taking initiative on a local level, in the absence of broader leadership at the state-level, to address sea level rise (SLR). Several presentations to the Task Force stood out to me.

In February I attended my first of three meetings with the Task Force. From an insurance perspective Swiss Re, a prominent re-insurer of property damage,  discussed the economics of climate adaptation. It came as no surprise that South Florida, and in particular Miami-Dade County, was identified as a high-risk area for potential hurricane damage to public and private property.  We discussed the challenge facing insurers responding to the projected exponential increase in risk and its effects on the economy. Areas such as New York City were also cited as examples where sea level rise has already translated into increased losses due to hurricanes winds and storm surge. Remember Hurricane Sandy?

Mid-March I had the pleasure of attending a Task Force presentation by John Englander, a respected oceanographer and author. From Miami Beach to India, and coastal communities in between, are already witnessing the effects of climate change and SLR. According to research cited by Mr. Englander, on average. sea level has risen globally over 8 inches in the last century and a half [12 inches in Miami Beach, 34 inches in Galveston (Texas) and 30 inches in Virginia Beach]. Here in south Florida, high tide inundation during certain times of year routinely flood low-lying neighborhoods. The scientific community has clearly established that there is indeed a direct correlation between rising temperature and sea level.  In S. Florida where we are threatened by both rising sea level, high tides and storm surges we can already see an immediate impact, but there are steps we can take to make our cities and state resilient to these threats and limit the impact. 

In the meeting prior to our discussion with Englander we heard from the Miami-Dade County Division of Environmental Resource Management (DERM). It was truly exciting to see and hear about the many successful projects that have taken place and are underway to preserve our environmental resources and natural ecosystem from SLR.  This local success has been achieved  by planning and investing in forward-thinking projects such as widening the beaches to protect against tropical and hurricane force storm surges and erosion of the coastline, planting and maintaining beach dunes and other fixed structures to encourage natural regeneration, stabilization and resilience of our coastline against threats in addition to actively monitoring salt water intrusion and restoring danger zones. Yet, it became clear that in the meetings I attended that the state is not fully prepared for the impacts of a changing climate – especially SLR.

What we do today matters, where we have planned, taken initiative and action as a community we have strengthened our city’s and county’s resilience. Yet without concerted efforts at a statewide-level to address and acknowledge the real threats of our human impact on climate change and SLR, we simply can not address adaptation and clean energy solutions collectively, realistically or responsibly.

With that said we must ask…

Where is our plan to move Florida to a true and new clean energy economy of the future? How can we make Florida more resilient to the challenges associated with SLR when some of our current political leaders reject the facts and science? If we as Floridians do not unite to protect our state from these threats who will? And if we stand alone as counties or cities then what does the future of our State look like? If we don’t join forces to act now, when will we?

To encourage state leaders to embrace clean energy solutions to climate change and Sea Level Rise, please join us and make sure to RSVP for our Solar Uprising ‘Rally in Tally’ at!

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