Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Fla. Sees Ominous Sign from Rising Waters Climate Issue Ignored by State Legislators

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Fla. Sees Ominous Sign from Rising Waters Climate Issue Ignored by State Legislators

Article excerpt

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- In the most dire predictions, South Florida's delicate barrier islands, coastal communities and captivating subtropical beaches will be lost to the rising waters in as few as 100 years.

Further inland, the Everglades, the river of grass that gives the region its freshwater, could one day be useless, some scientists fear, contaminated by the inexorable advance of the salt-filled ocean. The Florida Keys, the pearl-like strand of islands that stretches into the Gulf of Mexico, would be mostly submerged alongside their exotic crown jewel, Key West.

"I don't think people realize how vulnerable Florida is," Harold Wanless, the chairman of the geological sciences department at the University of Miami, said in an interview last week. "We're going to get 4 or 5 or 6 feet of water, or more, by the end of the century. You have to wake up to the reality of what's coming."

Concern about rising seas is stirring not only in the halls of academia but also in local governments along the state's southeastern coast.

The four counties there -- Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe and Palm Beach, with a combined population of 5.6 million -- have formed an alliance to figure out solutions.

Long battered by hurricanes and prone to flooding from intense thunderstorms, Florida is the most vulnerable state in the country to the rise in sea levels.

Even predictions more modest than Mr. Wanless' foresee most of low-lying coastal Florida subject to increasingly frequent floods as the polar ice caps melt more quickly and the oceans surge and gain ground.

Much of Florida's 1,197-mile coastline is only a few feet above the current sea level, and billions of dollars' worth of buildings, roads and other infrastructure lies on highly porous limestone that leaches water like a sponge.

But although officials in Miami Beach and in other coastal cities, many of whom attended a two-day conference on climate change last week in Fort Lauderdale, have begun to address the problem, the issue has gotten little traction among state legislators in Tallahassee.

The issue appears to be similarly opaque to segments of the community -- business, real estate, tourism -- that have a vested interest in protecting South Florida's bustling economy. …

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