Saturday, January 12, 2008

Global warming, sea level rise and Florida: "we're on the way to something else", by gimleteye

I understand the mind-set of the Chamber of Commerce perfectly well, especially in Florida where the only perceivable industry is health care, where patients are a constantly renewable resource, and construction and development, where keeping costs low means constantly deferring the true costs of infrastructure: promote anything that puts cement on ground and steel in the air and people in more and more houses even if they are in flood plains.

And I understand perfectly well the mind-set of the Farm Bureau, that opposes anything that might obstruct their spontaneous transformation into builders and developers.

So in Florida, there is nothing by way of long-term planning that works.

And what exists, only does so by dint of a few people, a few agencies, a few activists who stand in the way but only temporarily and depending on the impermanence of public office and laws protecting the environment and land use that exist mainly to generate fees for lobbyists chiseling away at.

So it is no surprise that in Miami Dade county, where more than three dozen experts and civic leaders are meeting in standing committees as part of a good faith effort by local government to offer recommendations to deal with climate change, that there was not a single person representing either the Chamber of Commerce, the builders, or the farmers except the odd informant employed by the county whose task is to report back to the special interests, what is going on in proceedings they couldn’t care less about. And no reporters from the mainstream press.

Yesterday, Dr. Harold Wanless—chair of the geology department at the University of Miami—made the presentation for the science committee, that includes more a dozen scientists, on sea level rise. The committee report is the result of several months of meetings and consultation.

Based on analysis and conversation with leading scientists on climate change, the committee report offers the position that the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has understated by a country mile what is now happening in terms of sea level rise and global warming.

Prior to yesterday's meeting in Miami, Dr. Wanless sent the science committee statement on sea level rise to several members of the IPCC who have been involved in drafting the sea level rise portion of the panel’s recommendations: none disagreed with the committee’s assessment.

To underscore the point, Dr. Wanless said that "we are on the way to something else". That something else is a rapid rise in sea level beyond any human experience.

"Since 1932, south Florida has had about a 9 inch relative rise of sea level. This is a rate of one foot per century and is about 8 times the average rate over the past 2,500 years."

"The 2007 IPCC report... did not incorporate the significantly accelerated melting being observed in the Greenland Ice Sheet... Simply put, climate and glacial scientists now see that models failed to predict the rapidity and quickness with which these critical changes would occur."

"... many respected scientists now see a likely sea level rise of at least 1.5 feet in the coming fifty years and a total of at least 3-5 feet by the end of the century, possibly significantly more."

"It should be pointed out that the highly porous limestone and sand substrate of Miami-Dade County (which at present permits excellent drainage) will limit the effectiveness of widespread use of levees and dikes to wall off the encroaching sea."

In other words, South Florida is not like New Orleans or the Netherlands that can survive living below sea-level.

(Dr. Harold Wanless is giving the luncheon speech today at the annual Everglades Coalition meeting in Captiva.)

Type the rest of the post here


amo said...

this is what i keep telling my family when they push us to buy a home "when prices bottom out."

i'd rather not spend a few hundred thousand dollars on something that not only won't ever be worth that much, but that most likely will have a nice upfront view of high tide.

out of sight said...

In the words of Bill Crosby as he portrayed GOD to Noah....

"How long can you tread water?"

Anonymous said...

Everglades project can ease harm of climate change, scientist says

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Sunday, January 13, 2008

CAPTIVA — Global warming means South Florida faces a future of eroded coasts, flooded barrier islands, mud-clogged bays, dying coral reefs, swaths of dead mangroves and saw grass, and shorelines reeking with blooming algae, a University of Miami scientist warned environmentalists Saturday.

But Harold Wanless offered one glimmer of hope: Restoring the Everglades can postpone some of the damage - but only if it's done right. That means recreating enough of the marsh's natural flow to rebuild eroded peat, which could hold back the salt and protect South Florida's drinking water supply.

"Everglades restoration is more important than ever," Wanless told hundreds of activists, engineers and state and federal leaders at the Everglades Coalition's annual conference. Even so, he said Florida faces a grim fate if scientists' worst fears are realized about the melting of glaciers in Antarctica and Greenland.

"We have set into motion a monster," said Wanless, who chairs the university's department of geological sciences. "I wish I was writing you a novel. But unfortunately this is, as far as we can see, very real."

Wanless' presentation cast a brief pall over the four-day Everglades gathering.

"I have never heard this room so silent," said Frank Jackalone, Florida director of the Sierra Club.

The warnings also caught the attention of leading appointees of Gov. Charlie Crist, who has made the fight against global warming one of his major environmental initiatives.

"Those are the worst effects of climate change - that is the do-nothing alternative," said Michael Sole, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection, adding that Crist is seeking ways to limit greenhouse-gas pollution and blunt the worst of the damage. "If people wait to see what happens, the cost of taking action is going to grow."

Eric Buermann, chairman of the board of the South Florida Water Management District, said he's taken Wanless' words to heart. "We need to get Everglades restoration moving."

Wanless said he doesn't know whether existing restoration plans would build up enough peat in the Everglades to forestall the harm to the region's freshwater aquifers. Some environmentalists say the plans would provide too little flowing water while relying too much on unmoving reservoirs.

Hours after Wanless' talk, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson unveiled a proposal to make the fight against global warming work to the Everglades' advantage. He wants the Everglades to get as much as $1.4 billion from a proposed federal program that could generate billions of dollars from greenhouse-gas polluters.

The legislation, sponsored by Sens. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., and John Warner, R-Va., would order cuts in carbon dioxide emissions and set up auctions in which many polluters would have to buy permits.

The bill would allow some of the money to go to aquatic habitats threatened by climate change, including the Everglades. Nelson, a Florida Democrat, said the restoration - the world's biggest environmental recovery effort - deserves its share.

"Despite the fact that now most scientists agree that the River of Grass is one of the world's most endangered places, there are still leaders in Washington who would drop it to the bottom of the nation's agenda," Nelson told the gathering, which drew more than 300 people.

He urged the Everglades activists to demand similar commitments from this year's presidential candidates.

The pollution-credits program wouldn't begin bringing in money until 2012 at the earliest, so help for the Everglades wouldn't be imminent. But Nelson said it would be a start to fulfilling the federal government's promises to pay for half of the multi-decade restoration.

Wanless said one key question is how much time the Everglades has left. He said conservative estimates from scientists predict a 2-foot increase in sea levels by the end of this century, but other research indicates that the rise could amount to 20 feet by 2200 - enough to put all of South Florida under water.

"I've heard climate scientists that say, 'I think it's hopeless and I think we've really lost it,' but I'm going to do everything I can to fight it," Wanless said. "Because we have to. That's our responsibility, isn't it?"

Anonymous said...

The sky is falling...the sky is falling.