A senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, Jane Long, has warned Florida residents that global warming will lead to them being under water. The remarks were made at a recent three-day conference targeting journalists and addressing the issue of global warming and worldwide climate change at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Though there was discussion of global climate change, Florida was a hot topic as presenters discussed the consequences of rising sea levels. Leonard Berry, a professor at Florida Atlantic University and also a presenter at the conference told his audience “(c)limate change for us in Florida is not a future problem….it’s a current problem.” Berry used photos from 2012 flooding to demonstrate his point.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted a rise in sea level of one to two feet by the middle of this century and a rise in sea level of four to six feet by the end of this century. According to Berry, cities like Tampa Bay have “major problems at three feet.” He attributes Florida’s particular vulnerabiliy to both sea level rise from global warming and the presence of sinkholes in the area which means that in addition to the water rising, the land is sinking creating a perfect storm for eventual flooding.
To make matters worse for Florida, and the rest of the world, scientists are not particularly optimistic about the possibility of reversing problems already begun by global warming. The problem being that energy use continues to rise, which leads to a rise in carbon dioxide emissions and a subsequent rise in the temperature of the Earth. According to Long and others, even if all emissions were stopped tomorrow, global warming would continue for thousands of years.
Long’s view is that “(w)e’re failing completely on a global scale.” Despite great efforts to inspire global change, results are minimal, even in areas like Florida that have now been warned they face a future under water. While Florida officials have begun to address the problem, there has been little action among citizens and business owners toward making true change. According to Ben Strauss, director of the Program on Sea Level Rise, “people tend to underestimate the gravity” of the problem, perhaps largely because the issue seems as though it is something that will need to be addressed only in the far off future.
Not so, if Long’s warning that portions of Florida could be under water as a result of global warming by the middle of the current century is to be believed. Some others weighing in on the issue agree with her prediction, saying that when sea level rises an additional two to three feet, Florida will “start to lose everything” in coastal areas.
Scientists maintain that only a truly global response to the problem has any hope of making an impact on the effects of global warming already in process. They explain that above all else, carbon dioxide emissions must be cut, with recommendations that the United States alone cut its emissions by at least 80% by the middle of the century. Those kind of cuts mean more reliance on nuclear and renewable energy sources. Development of alternate energy sources isn’t currently happening in Florida, or anywhere else in America, on a scale wide enough to have the level of impact needed.
Like Long and her prediction that global warming will lead to Florida being under water by mid-century, Harold R. Wanless, a professor at the University of Miami has also said that now is the time for Floridians to prepare for the rise in sea level that is seemingly inevitable. Professor Wanless has expressed his frustration with current engineering plots to remedy the problems that could arise from future flooding, and insists that the best solution at this point is simply to move inland and stop all further development along the coastline.
By Michele Wessel