by Katie Valentine
Sea level rise is threatening Florida’s coastlines and straining its economy, and Floridians want to know what the presidential candidates will do about it.
More than 120 Florida county officials and scientists sent a letter to President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney today urging them to address, while campaigning and debating in Florida, how they will deal with sea level rise. The letter asks candidates to answer three questions while in the state:
- What will be the federal government’s planning and policy priorities in order to reduce the risks of future sea level rise?
- What will be the polices for adaptive measures to respond to current and future impacts of sea level rise?
- How would you work with the rest of the world to address rising sea levels and other effects of climate change?
It also outlines what could happen if sea level rise is not addressed in Florida:
As citizens and scientists concerned about the impacts and costs of sea level rise on our nation, we urge you to address this issue when you will be in Boca Raton, Florida.
Scientists project increased coastal and inland flooding and inundation, an increased likelihood of significant damage to key aspects of our urban infrastructure, and compromised drinking water sources in more and more communities. The porous limestone underlying much of Florida resembles Swiss cheese, making sea walls ineffective and the state particularly vulnerable to sea level rise by allowing subsurface water to penetrate far inland. Because Florida is so densely populated, it is estimated 40 percent of the population and housing units at risk from sea level rise in the nation are here, in the state of Florida.
Unfortunately, global sea level rise is a danger that must be considered by the next president of the United States. The issue threatens the future of Florida, the nation, and communities around the world. Providing effective solutions will challenge all levels of government.
For Florida, sea level rise isn’t a distant threat: it’s a real and pressing problem. The letter states that sea levels rose by about eight inches in the twentieth century, and that this rise has caused flooding, abandonment of drinking water wells due to saline intrusion, and flood control structure failures. In Miami Beach, city leaders are considering a $206 million update of its outdated drainage system in order to deal with prolonged flooding in some neighborhoods that has “become the norm after heavy storms.”
Mentioning sea level rise and other climate-related issues in Florida may not only be a win for Floridians, though. Data shows that if the candidates want to win votes in swing states, including Florida, they should talk about climate change. A Yale and George Mason study showed that 79 percent of voters in swing states want the U.S. to take some effort (small, medium or large) on global warming, and 69 percent of independent voters in swing states say the U.S. should make a medium or large-scale effort to reduce global warming.
Other swing states are experiencing the effects of climate change already as well: Colorado wildfires caused about $500 million in property damage this year and are still burning in some places. So far, both candidates have seemed reluctant to break the climate silence, but addressing climate change in these states could be a strategically important move, particularly for President Obama.