President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord sends a clear message to Florida that it’s on its own to save 8,400 miles of vulnerable coastline, conservationists said this week.
Rising sea levels means fish already swim in South Florida streets during king tide season, but removing the U.S. from the landmark agreement condemns the state to waterlogged communities in retreat from the sea, said Rafe Pomerance, a former deputy assistant secretary of state and founder of the Climate Policy Center.
“The Arctic is unraveling and the king tides are just early precursors of what is to come,” Pomerance said. “We say the fate of Greenland is the fate of Miami. If Greenland melts, Miami is underwater.”
Although Trump threatened during his campaign to remove the U.S. from the 195-country agreement to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), it wasn’t until this week that some type of departure from the plan seemed inevitable.
While Trump was clear that he is pulling out, he said Thursday he was open to “negotiate our way back in under terms that are fair to the U.S.”
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said on Twitter after the announcement that if the U.S. stops fighting climate change, the rest of the world will also.
“The future of Florida is tied to the ability of the world to shift energy systems,” Pomerance said.
In the 20th century, sea levels rose 5.5 inches globally.
Current rates have accelerated to about a foot — 12 inches — per 100 years, according to a 2016 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. That’s compared with pre-industrialization times, when the seas rose only about 1 to 1.5 inches per century.
An October 2015 refresh of sea-level rise numbers by the Southeast Regional Compact on Climate Change found that while South Florida measurements have been similar to what’s happening globally, they are “anticipated to outpace the global average due to ongoing variations in the Florida Currents and Gulf Stream.”
Between 2015 and 2060, South Florida seas could swell between 11 and 22 inches, based on estimates from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
By 2100, they could rise from 28 inches to 57 inches — between 2.3 feet and 4.7 feet.
“It’s ironic that Trump would ignore the threat of sea level rise since he owns so much property that would eventually be underwater,” Pomerance said.
His iconic Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach is threatened by encroaching water. If the worst-case scenario holds true, nearly half of Mar-a-Lago’s 20-acre site would be underwater in 84 years, with the brackish Intracoastal Waterway invading from the west.
The blush-colored mansion itself, built in 1927 by Marjorie Merriweather Post, doesn’t succumb until 6 feet of sea level rise occurs, according to a NOAA tool that visualizes sea-level rise.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ Palm Beach mansion is also threatened by rising seas. It sits about 4.3 feet above sea level on the Intracoastal.
Ross told Sen. Nelson in a Jan. 23 letter that he is well aware of sea-level rise concerns.
“As a resident of Florida who lives along the coast, I certainly share your interest and concern about the impact of these changes on coastal areas,” Ross wrote. “Let me preface the following by suggesting that we put aside for now the question of what is causing these changes, and agree to focus on addressing the impacts of those changes.”
As commerce secretary, Ross oversees the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Weather Service.
Florida lawmakers were already denouncing the purported climate pact withdraw Wednesday with U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, saying it will damage international relationships, weaken the global standing of the U.S., and cede “leadership of this issue so vital to our future to China, Russia, and Europe.”
“Retreating glaciers will cause retreating coastal populations closer to the equator, and Florida is ground zero,” said Keren Bolter, a professor of geosciences at Florida Atlantic University. “But the good news is if we start acting now we can least slow it down.”
Palm Beach County’s experience with rising sea levels is most apparent in the fall when several months of high-tide flooding, in conjunction with lunar cycles, inundates coastal streets. Brackish water bubbles up through storm grates and overtakes aging sea walls that were once able to contain the higher tides.
In Delray Beach and Boca Raton residents, are forced to find other places to park their cars and watch as their front yards turn to fish ponds.
But areas in Miami-Dade and Broward counties have it worse.
Former Coral Gables Mayor Jim Cason was outspoken about his city’s struggles with sea-level rise.
“We have $15 billion worth of property in our community where elevations are from zero to 4 feet,” Cason said during a December media call on a report about how local, state and federal governments can help cities become more resilient to climate change. “Our most affluent communities are along the water, and at some point, they may have to make a decision on whether they are going to move out, and we will have to decide whether we are going to continue to provide services.”
Leonard Berry, a professor emeritus at FAU and the former director of the Florida Center for Environmental Studies, said that as much as he’s concerned about a U.S. withdraw from the climate accord, he also fears dwindling government support to continue climate change monitoring.
“Understanding the problem is based on national and federal data that is critically important,” Berry said. “If we are deprived that, we’ll lose a key part of our ability to respond.”
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