“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.”
—from an open letter to the presidential candidates
There’s no doubt that Florida is an important state. It’s home to the oldest city in the US (St. Augustine), Walt Disney World, Key West (like Walt Disney World for adults), and the Kennedy Space Center. Plus about half of Canada seems to vacate our country every winter to go this sunny locale for some much-needed time away from the cold, a group affectionately known as Snowbirds. And you probably recall that Florida played a pretty important role in the 2000 presidential election. (Whoever knew that chads would become such an important part of our vocabulary?)
The third and final presidential debate will take place at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida on October 22nd. And it turns out there are many Floridians who want the issue of climate change addressed in the debate. Over 120 individuals have signed their names to an open letter addressed to both President Obama and Governor Romney asking them to answer some important questions:
- 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?
Florida is already feeling the effects of sea level rise and, increasingly, it jeopardizes the health, safety, and economic well-being of our communities. Our local tidal gauges show sea levels rose by about eight inches in the twentieth century. This rise in sea level is now resulting in the flooding of city streets and parking areas at seasonal high tides, the abandonment of drinking water wells in coastal communities due to salt water intrusion, and the failure of flood control structures to operate during high tides.
Of course, the future threats are greater still and the signatories address that, pointing out forty percent of the American population at risk from sea level rise hail from the state of Florida. The authors of the letter cite a number of references including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. They point out their concerns aren’t limited strictly to sea level rise associated with melting ice and ocean expansion, because those factors only affect sea level rise in a very gradual time frame. They remind the two candidates of the current reality the state faces: increased tropical storms with associated surges that are having an ever-increasing impact on Florida coasts, causing temporary rises in sea level in certain regions up to five and a half feet.
Those who signed their name to the letter come from two broad groups:
- They have a Master’s degree or PhD with expertise (research or teaching) on sea level rise and its consequences, including but not limited to scientists, economists, certified engineers, and social scientists; or
- They work or volunteer in an official capacity for a Florida city, county, or the state on sea level rise and its consequences, including, for example, city officials (mayors, city planners, county commissioners, etc.) and members of official task forces, commissions, and committees.
It will be interesting to see if the topic is brought up in the upcoming debate taking place in Boca Raton. Many people—not just Floridians—would like the subject of climate change to get some attention during these debates. The question here is whether or not these two men will address an important issue affecting a state in the union. We’ll all be watching October 22nd with baited breath.
And perhaps in years to come Floridians will be watching future presidential debates with hip waders on if this subject continues to be ignored.