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Written by Frank Rollason -- BT Contributor   
April 2013

Global warming, and its impact on sea levels, needs to be addressed locally

S
Pix_FrankRollason_4-13o the other night I’m watching a documentary on Alaskan polar bears on the Smithsonian channel. (I have no life, it’s true.) In this riveting presentation, it was made clear the ice floes that serve as floating islands for polar bears as they make their way from frozen sea cap to frozen sea cap in search of food (seals) are becoming scarcer.

Many of the bears drown from exhaustion because they just cannot tread the cold sea any longer. And why, you may ask, are the ice floes becoming scarcer?

Global warming.

I know, I know. Some of you may think I have jumped on the Al Gore bandwagon and am pushing all kinds of panic buttons, but this is just not the case. What has me following the global-warming situation is the resulting rise in sea level and the impact it will eventually have on the East Coast and, in particular, on South Florida.

Speaking of panic, it will only become a panic situation if our elected officials ignore the rising tides and just kick the can down the road as an issue to be handled by the next set of elected officials. (That happened with our national debt and you see how well that’s going.)

Anyway, back to the animals that serve as a barometer of climatic conditions, much like the proverbial canary in the coal mine. In the case of global warming, other animals are silently sounding the alert.

The polar bear population is decreasing primarily due to a lack of food. Climate change is having an impacton the food chain, and the coldest regions of our big blue marble are the most sensitive to the changes.

While the polar bears are located to the north in the Arctic, penguins are located in the southern region of Antarctica. On March 11, NBC had a segment on the nightly news concerning the plight of the penguins. Apparently, over relatively recent geological periods, there has been a ten-degree temperature rise in this region. The results have been catastrophic for the penguin population, so much so that their numbers have dropped by more than 90 percent. Why?

Global warming.

You see, as the temperature rises, the amount of algae growing under the ice cap dwindles, resulting in an adverse impact on the next organism in the food chain, krill. At this point there is 80 percent less krill than there was when the climate was much colder. Well, who eats krill, aside from small fish eaten by larger fish, which are then eaten by penguins? Only the largest mammal left in the sea: the whale.

During the cold season, the whales migrate to the poles and feed upon krill to gain fat in order to survive the long migration back to warmer climates, where they bear and raise their young, before once again heading back to the colder waters to pig out on krill. It appears that the pigging-out times are quickly ending. Warmer climate equals fewer algae; fewer algae equals fewer krill; fewer krill equals fewer fish; fewer fish equals fewer penguins and whales.

Let’s bring this subject a little closer to home. On March 10, the front page of the Miami Herald featured an article headlined “Deep Trouble,” which began: “A lot of highly developed coastal property could be under water sooner than you think.” (Editor’s note: For a comprehensive look at how sea-level rise will affect the Biscayne Corridor, see BT senior writer Erik Bojnansky’s cover story “Lost in a Rising Sea,” September 2012.)

The Herald article’s primary focus was a federal lawsuit filed by an advocacy group called Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper, challenging Miami-Dade’s $1.5 billion plan to repair the county’s aging sewage system. The crux of the suit is that the county is ignoring the inevitable sea rise as it spends millions of taxpayer dollars to retrofit and repair the three main sewage plants, located in South Dade, North Miami, and on Virginia Key.

The county argues the current work will buy several decades of time and, anyway, it doesn’t have the funding to accomplish longer-range work. The position of several scientists studying the sea-level issue is that it’s apparent sea rise is proceeding at a rate faster than what had been anticipated even four short years ago.

Here are a few stats that should make you start thinking: Between 2031 and 2042 (18-29 years from now) a one-foot rise is expected. Between 2048 and 2066 (35-53 years), a two-foot rise is expected. Between 2063 and 2085 (50-72 years), a three-foot rise is expected. Between 2094 and 2112 (just 99 years), a six-foot rise is expected.

So what do we do? Well, there is a consortium of engineers, scientists, and other professionals from Palm Beach County to Monroe County studying the issue and formulating a plan. Just as President John F. Kennedy made a moon landing a top national priority in the 1960s, so too must President Obama make it a national priority to address catastrophic sea-level rise, which is clearly on the way.

In the January 2013 issue of Rolling Stone, writer Jeff Goodell pointed out that, “among all the tests President Obama faced in his first term, his biggest failure was climate change.” After promising in 2008 that his presidency would be “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal,” President Obama went silent on the most crucial issue of our time.

If one subscribes to the bumper sticker philosophy, “Think Globally, Act Locally,” I submit it’s time for some heat to be turned up under the butts of our locally elected officials. While it may be of some value to shoot off an e-mail to the president, it may be of more value to start asking our local elected officials and state reps what they are doing to bring a relevant action plan into being.

After all, it will be a waste of time -- and money -- to rebuild a crumbling national infrastructure of bridges, roads, and water and sewer systems if it will all be under water by the time our children’s children are middle age.

I will leave you with a quote from Dr. Harold Wanless, a University of Miami geology professor who has studied sea-level rise in South Florida for the past 40 years: “At some point, and I hope it’s this year, Miami-Dade government and everybody has to start truly recognizing that we’re in for it; that this is coming.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

 

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