Under current projections, the Atlantic would swallow much of the Florida Keys and Miami-Dade in a century, according to experts at a sea-level rise summit
The subject of global warming has become so politically unpalatable over the last few years that neither party mentions it much anymore.
A conference on climate change sponsored by Florida Atlantic University made it clear that ignoring the threat has done nothing to slow it down — particularly in South Florida, which has more people and property at risk by rising sea levels than any place in the country.
The two-day summit in Boca Raton, which wrapped up Friday, painted a bleak and water-logged picture for much of coastal Florida.
Under current projections, the Atlantic Ocean would swallow much of the Florida Keys in 100 years. Miami-Dade, in turn, would eventually replace them as a chain of islands on the highest parts of the coastal limestone ridge, bordered by the ocean on one side and an Everglades turned into a salt water bay on the other.
Ben Strauss, chief operating officer of Climate Central, an independent research and journalism organization, warned that much of the southern peninsula south of Lake Okeechobee would be virtually uninhabitable within 250 years.
“There’s good reason to believe southern Florida will eventually have to be evacuated,” Strauss told some 275 scientists and climate and planning experts from government agencies, insurance companies, construction experts and other businesses likely to be impacted by rising seas.
While scientists can’t yet predict with certainty how fast and high seas will eventually rise, there is no disputing South Florida will be ground zero for the earliest major impacts, said Leonard Barry, director of FAU’s Florida Center for Environmental Studies.
“The sky is not falling, but the waters are rising,” he said. “We need to recognize that, prepare for that and begin to address it.’’
Four counties — Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe — have begun to do that under a 2009 agreement to work together studying how to mitigate and adapt to the myriad ripple effects of rising seas.
Though it might take a century or more to flood people out, scientists warned that potential impacts will come long before in the form of increasing damage from hurricane storm surge and flooding, rising insurance rates and shrinking freshwater supplies as sea water taints coastal wells.
If the rate of rise increases, as some new studies suggest, all those impacts could come sooner — in decades, not centuries.