By WAYNE M. PATHMAN – Chicken Little said: “The sky is falling, the sky is falling, the sky is falling,” and nobody listened. No matter: He was wrong. It never happened.
But now, the water is rising, the water is rising – and is anybody listening? Yes. People are, from the four-county compact (which includes Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties) to chambers of commerce, and various learned scholars and political leaders.
Is it enough? No, it’s not. The business community must be engaged, but they are not on the bandwagon yet. The problems Florida faces will have an impact on all facets of the lifestyle we enjoy here in South Florida. That includes how we maintain our coastal areas (beaches); how we insure our homes and businesses (rates will rise faster than the tide; bet on it); and how we will maintain our economy to meet future resiliency needs.
In order to be able to create resiliency, we will need to come together as one community: citizens, business leaders/stakeholders, and government leaders.
On a recent trip to the Netherlands (working with the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce and the Dutch Consulate) to learn more about the effects of climate change and specifically, the effects of rising tides, I was not only impressed by what the Dutch are doing to combat the effects of climate change, but how they have united their citizens, business community and political leaders to deal with rising tides and other water-related issues. Through the creation of “Water Boards” (similar to our South Florida Water Management District) that have broad power to address coastal protection and other water-related issues throughout their country, they are united in their understanding of an impending problem.
You don’t plan to fail, you fail to plan. We need to start planning, now, by changing our laws and building codes that affect how, what and where we build; build major capital projects with an eye to future impacts of rising tides; and search for and create engineering solutions to combat the problems that will be created by rising tides.
Sea Level Rise (“SLR”) is the most serious climate change threat to low-lying Southeast Florida. SLR will cause saltwater intrusion and inundation of our coastal communities. It will also increase the adverse impacts of hurricanes, severe rainstorms, and flooding.
What are the contributing factors that cause sea level to rise? (1) Thermal expansion of the oceans due to global warming, which has been the major component contributing to SLR; (2) normal melting of land-based ice from mountaintops around the world; and (3) the disintegration of glaciers in polar regions, which is accelerating because of rising temperatures in the Arctic and Antarctic.
All of these factors and others have led many experts to forecast that over the rest of this century, SLR could be anywhere from a foot and a half to 12 feet. Whatever the SLR may be, the impacts will be severe. Just 3 inches of SLR can have an impact on our fresh water supply and impede our stormwater control systems. Many assume that the problem can be addressed with raising sea walls and beach replenishment. These beliefs ignore our region’s greatest liability, our porous limestone base which will allow water to rise from below.
We need to come together as one community with a common goal to create resiliency. We need to start changing our zoning, our building requirements, and our long-term planning and recognize that SLR is coming – whether we believe it or not.
Wayne M. Pathman is a partner with the Miami law firm of Pathman Lewis, LLP. He heads the environmental/land use and zoning sections of the firm. Wayne can be reached at email@example.com or (305) 379-2425.