Sea level rise is causing chronic flooding in Florida's coastal cities.
On the Front Lines of Climate Change
UCS partners with Floridians confronting sea level rise
In few places around the world are the effects of climate change more clearly visible than south Florida. Sea level has risen more than eight inches along the state’s coast—enough to damage roads and beachfront resorts. The city of Hallandale Beach, just north of Miami, has even been forced to spend $10 million to drill new wells for drinking water after saltwater seeped into six of its wells.
The threat facing Florida is not unique: sea levels along the northeastern United States’ Atlantic coast have recently risen at a rate three to four times faster than the global average. Yet as low-lying communities across the country struggle to adapt, opponents in Congress continue to block action on climate change and local governments have been offered little financial help. UCS is putting its muscle behind efforts to illustrate the dilemma facing coastal states by focusing attention on Florida’s plight in particular.
In the build-up to the presidential election last fall, voters heard little to nothing from the candidates about climate change. Even in Florida, site of the third and final debate and a wealth of electoral votes, neither President Obama nor Mitt Romney addressed the subject.
Working to change that, UCS helped organize a letter urging the presidential candidates to discuss their plans for dealing with sea level rise in Florida. We circulated the letter to our Science Network members in the state and, with the help of allies, collected the signatures of more than 100 scientists, mayors, commissioners, and other city and county officials from more than a dozen Florida municipalities.
On October 11, national media outlets including the CBS Evening News, Mother Jones, and Scientific American as well as local outlets such as Florida Public Radio, the Miami Herald, South Florida Sun Sentinel, and Naples Daily News cited the letter’s description of a threat projected to cost Florida tens of billions of dollars in the coming years. The Miami Herald story quoted UCS Outreach Associate Chrissy Elles, who participated in a press conference in Miami Beach while standing barefoot in ankle-deep water on a city sidewalk—a fact of life likely to become more common for residents forced to face the reality of rising sea levels. The press conference was timed to coincide with an extreme seasonal high tide, which caused seawater to back up into storm drains and flood city streets. In the past, such flooding would only have occurred during a major storm.
In recent speeches culminating in his State of the Union address, President Obama has vowed to take action to reduce the heat-trapping emissions that lead to sea level rise. UCS will continue to engage Florida’s residents about the threat posed by a warmer climate and what they can do about it—not just by adapting to the changes that are already happening but by pushing their legislators to take action and prevent even worse changes. And we will continue to publicize Florida’s story, as well as those of communities in other states whose coasts are rapidly changing. We also plan to work with local officials and scientists to apply the lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy (and Katrina before that) in preparing for damaging storm surges in this era of rising seas.
A Manufactured Climate Controversy Muted
We turned attention back to the facts
Public acceptance of climate change dipped two years ago when climate contrarians used stolen emails from scientists to generate controversy and misinformation about global warming. Only 47 percent of Americans in early 2011 agreed that global warming is happening and caused by human activities, according to polling from Yale and George Mason University.
UCS countered by launching the Weight of the Evidence campaign, which, by helping climate scientists communicate their research more effectively to the media, would bring renewed attention to global warming and expand the public’s understanding of its causes and solutions. We conducted workshops for nearly 100 scientists, many of whom have since developed fruitful relationships with both local and national journalists.
We also brought scientists, business leaders, and city planners together in the wake of extreme weather to explain the role climate change plays in such events and the actions needed to better protect communities. For example, we highlighted research showing the threat heat waves pose to high school football players; this played a role in Texas and Georgia’s decisions to implement new rules to protect athletes.
Thanks in part to our work, public acceptance of human-caused climate change had risen to 54 percent last fall, and 74 percent of Americans now recognize that climate change is making extreme weather worse. We are committed to driving these numbers higher still, and translating awareness into action.
UCS Press Secretary Eric Bontrager (standing) helps scientists distill the main messages of thier research at an October 2011 communications workshop in Los Angeles.
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