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Florida experts call for debate on rising tides

Wikimedia Commons/NOAA

The final presidential debate will take place in Boca Raton, Florida, on 22 October, and a local movement is afoot to get sea-level rise on the agenda.

Aside from a focused debate on energy and climate by campaign advisers last week, the issue of global warming has played only a minor part in the election. Meanwhile, sheltered from national politics, local and state governments face rising costs as they plan for a future in a warmer and wetter world. And nowhere in the United States is this truer than in Florida.

On Thursday, a collection of scientists, environmentalists and local elected officials released a letter urging President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney to address the issue during their upcoming debate (Union of Concerned Scientists). The letter includes a frightening map illustrating how much of Florida would be under water in 2060 (another election year) with 30 centimetres of sea-level rise and a storm surge of 1.68 metres. The southern tip of Florida up to and beyond Miami is inundated, along with coastal areas throughout the state. And this is a conservative estimate, the signatories point out. The US Army Corps of Engineers projects a rise of 23–61 centimetres by 2060.

In conclusion, the letter calls on the candidates to answer three questions during their visit to Boca Raton:

– What will be the federal government’s planning and policy priorities in order to reduce the risks of future sea level rise?

– What will be the polices for adaptive measures to respond to current and future impacts of sea level rise?

– How would you work with the rest of the world to address rising sea levels and other
effects of climate change?

Slowing the rising tides will be difficult indeed. As with the man in the photo above, taken at Miami Beach in 1947, it might be tempting to just turn and run. But at least one group seized on the discussion to provide a reminder that there are ways to move more quickly, if the world were so inclined. And from this perspective, a singular focus on carbon dioxide — not only the dominant long-term greenhouse gas but also the most difficult to curb, technically and politically — might be ill-advised. Focusing on pollutants such as methane, black carbon and tropospheric ozone, which exert a powerful short-term effect, could cut the rate of warming in half over the next few decades, reminds the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development.

Obama continues to talk about global warming but isn’t making any grand promises, in large part because his legislative agenda on climate hit a wall on Capitol Hill. Romney hasn’t had much to say either, although he did treat it as a laugh line during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa (also inundated in the map): “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. MY promise… is to help you and your family.”

As it happens, Obama spoke today at a campaign rally in Miami, and he fired off his own shot at Romney: “Yes, my plan will reduce the carbon pollution that’s heating our planet, because climate change is not a hoax. More drought and floods and hurricanes and wildfires — that’s not a joke.  That’s a threat to our children’s future.”

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    Michael Kovari said:

    To a non-expert, the map doesn’t seem to make sense. They take into account 12 inches of sea-level rise and a 5′ 6" storm surge, but then mention in passing that Hurricane Andrew (1992) produced a 17′ storm surge! As they point out, a storm surge is local while sea-level rise occurs everywhere – nevertheless, the 12 inches doesn’t seem very impressive in comparison. If you believe the map, a storm surge like that produced by Andrew could put the whole of the southern tip of Florida under 10 feet of water, with no sea-level rise.

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