Wednesday, May 28, 2014

US can learn from Florida climate change response

Insurance Journal via Bloomberg: Adapting to climate change is such a daunting task that it can be hard to know where, or how, to begin. Here’s one answer: in southeastern Florida, with yellow foam earplugs.

The plugs are needed to keep out the din of the South Florida Water Management District’s pumping station, with its 400-horsepower pumps submerged in the Miami River. They are capable of changing the direction of the river, ensuring that it always runs toward the ocean, as it’s supposed to, draining storm water. Gravity used to do the job, but with sea level rising — it’s up at least 8 inches (20 centimeters) from what it was a century ago — gravity doesn’t always do the trick.

Florida’s state and national politicians, including Governor Rick Scott and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, are free to question whether climate change exists. Local officials don’t have that luxury. When it floods, people call city hall.

The need for a practical response, requiring both pumping stations and political cooperation, makes South Florida ground zero (sea zero?) in the debate over climate change. Its public officials, elected and otherwise, are showing how adaptation is not only necessary but also possible.

Miami Beach, for example, is installing 80 underground pumps to deal with the increasingly frequent “sunny-day floods” that inundate the western side of the island city during high tides in the fall and spring. The Miami-Dade County is reseeding mangroves behind the beaches and preserving coastal wetlands to soak up intensifying storm surges. Engineers in Fort Lauderdale and Pompano Beach are experimenting with new designs for “backflow preventers” to keep seawater from rushing into public pipes but still allow freshwater to flow out.

Southeastern Florida is facing the symptoms of climate change sooner than most places. Other effects identified in this month’s National Climate Assessment — persistent drought in Kansas, say, or frequent wildfires in Alaska — could be decades off...

A 2012 flood in Doral, Florida, shot by Cyclonebiskit, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 3.0 license

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