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Evidence of the higher seas can be seen around the region – including increased flooding, raising roads, flood pumps and encroaching saltwater.

Given this scope, The Miami Herald, The Sun-Sentinel and The Palm Beach Post have teamed up with WLRN to address sea-level rise.

Host Tom Hudson spoke with members of the editorial boards – Nancy Ancrum of The Miami Herald, Rick Christie of The Palm Beach Post and Rosemary O’Hara of The Sun-Sentinel – about the latest from The Invading Sea media collaborative.

WLRN: What is the threat posed by higher seas in South Florida? 

ROSEMARY O’HARA: South Florida understands that sea-level rise is happening. The challenge we face is whether we think it’s going to affect us in our lifetime. The issue is it’s already affecting us. It’s happening, and what’s not happening is a plan for our region. What are we going to do about this?

For years, though, we’ve had this Southeast Florida Climate Compact – this agreement among the four counties about climate change and resiliency and adaptation and mitigation. In other words, it’s a response at the local level. Has that gone to a point of action? 

NANCY ANCRUM: It has gotten the attention of elected officials, whose attention really was lacking here. We’re also seeing are a lot of cranes in the air, a lot of high-rises still on the horizon. So, there is a disconnect between whatever good the Climate Change Compact can do and elected officials who keep approving such construction.

The population continues to swell. The fact of the matter is we need to have these policy discussions and policies about how to balance that population demand with our ability to respond to sea-level rise.

RICK CHRISTIE: Absolutely. These are tough conversations to have. Florida’s economy is pretty much fueled by its growth and always has been. The politicians’ job obviously is to bring in as much tax revenue as possible so that they can provide services, and they’re reluctant to stop or allow the buildings that are going up along the coast.

I think at the federal level, it is a climate change policy question. At the local level, at the state level, even, it’s perhaps more of a consequence of climate change policy debate. In other words, what is any singular municipality within the four counties of South Florida going to do to affect the trajectory of climate change versus what are those four counties going to do to protect neighborhoods, to protect the revenue-generating assets of the beaches, for instance?

R.O.: At the local level, there is a bipartisan agreement that this is real; this is happening; and we have to do something. But at Tallahassee, despite the economic powerhouse that is South Florida and the change that we’re facing, we are not on the agenda there.

And Washington is responsible for the Intracoastal Waterway and for the seawalls along there, and we need those sea walls raised. Washington is responsible for our flood control system with the Army Corps of Engineers; we need that addressed. Yet, because of the politics of climate change, they’re sticking their heads in the sand. It’s really why we are trying to frame this conversation in terms of sea-level rise.

The pushback is that people are afraid we’re going to hurt the economy. Well, our economy is going to change. But there is a business opportunity in the business of adaptation and in the business of solar energy. And if we think not just about building high-rises on the beach or inland, but start thinking about adaptation as a huge opportunity. Let’s be a leader in the world on how ground zero can adapt to a sea-level rise. There is opportunity here.

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