April 21, 2007
Of the 50 U.S. states, Florida will be experiencing the fastest noticeable climate change, according to new studies. Because of its low elevation, long subtropical coastline and the bulk of the people living close to the seashore, rising ocean levels and violent weather patterns will affect them more than any other state. Unless Florida reduces emissions and adapts: cities will have to shell out big bucks for seawalls and flood-control structures; agriculture will be hurt by drought; insurance companies will refuse to provide coverage in areas vulnerable to greater storm damage; coral bleaching and acidic seas will devastate sport and commercial fishing. Sea levels are rising twice as fast as early computer models predicted. New calculations are estimating a three-foot rise by the end of this century. "A real concern is that the models are underestimating the rate of rise." The Florida Keys, tiny islands just a few feet above sea level, are the most vulnerable. Since 1930, the ocean has risen about nine inches around Key West. On a barrier island, such as Miami Beach or the Florida Keys, a one-foot rise could put water 200 to 2,000 feet inland. Beneath the Florida Keys, a lens of fresh water covers the salt water. As the seas rise, they push the fresh water up, especially in times of drought. As the salt water rises, the roots of trees that thrive in fresh water are then in salt water. Rising seas also threaten South Florida's underground freshwater drinking supply. "But it's not all doom and gloom. If I believed that, I'd shoot myself. When you take an action, a system puts down a new memory. From my perspective, [halting climate change] is about lag time, not doom and gloom."