Preparing For Sea Level Rise Requires Action, Not Rhetoric

While the politicians debate if and why the climate is changing, Florida needs action — especially regarding one key factor that could spell doom for our low-lying state: sea level rise.

Last weekend, the third annual Sea Level Rise Symposium took place at the Oxbridge Academy of the Palm Beaches, featuring a series of presentations, workshops and forums on topics ranging from new resiliency design strategies for southeast Florida and business planning for a changing environment, to mitigating the sea level rise effects on the Everglades and community disaster preparedness.

But while a handful of experts are planning to make sure Florida stays dry, state and national leaders are more engaged in a war of words, when what is needed are concrete plans and action. And that should scare the heck out of anyone living in southeast Florida.

Palm Beach County is caught in the crosshairs of this projected rise in global sea levels. And right now, the future doesn’t look pretty. A number of models have been created. Several of them are available online, and they basically tell the same story: a sea level rise of only a few feet would inundate thousands of acres of highly developed land and beach communities along Florida’s Atlantic Coast, Gulf Coast and the Florida Keys. Significant flooding and environmental change would also be experienced in the Everglades.

“This is not a future problem. It’s a current problem,” said Leonard Berry, director of the Florida Center for Environmental Studies at Florida Atlantic University and a contributing author of the National Climate Assessment, which found that sea levels have risen about 8 inches in the past century. A recent Florida Atlantic University study estimates that just 6 more inches of sea level rise — which is very plausible within two decades — would likely inundate about half of South Florida’s flood control capacity.

According to Climate Central, some 2.4 million people and 1.3 million homes in Florida sit within 4 feet of the local high tide line. Sea level rise is more than doubling the risk of a storm surge at this level in South Florida by 2030. The global average sea level has gone up about 8 inches since 1880. In South Florida, taxpayers are already paying the price for climate change as salt water pushes through porous bedrock into coastal drinking-water supplies, and rivers and canals choked by heavy rains have a harder time draining into the ocean.

So what can we do to create action? That’s easier said than done. The Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact “Regional Climate Action Plan” ( developed 110 action items in seven goal areas. However, they require numerous governments — municipal, county, regional and state — to work together. Right now, unfortunately, that appears unlikely.

Suffice it to say, the problems associated with climate change are numerous, and solving them will take time and money. But swift progress is needed, and that requires political rhetoric to turn into political action. In other parts of the nation, “climate change” and “sea level rise” are far-off worries. Here in Florida, it’s our economy, our homes and our very existence.