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Tuesday, Jul 17, 2018
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Editorial: Don’t ignore possibility of sea level rise

Florida is surrounded on three sides by water and has 1,800-miles of coastline. About 75 percent of its 20 million residents live in coastal counties.

So you would think the possibility of sea level rise would concern Florida leaders. But The Associated Press finds state government has no plan to deal with rising seas and has made no attempt to coordinate local efforts to deal with the possibility.

This is ludicrous, given the impact that higher sea levels — and the resulting flooding, storm surge, saltwater intrusion and such — could have on Florida’s economy and environment.

One does not have to subscribe to doom-and-gloom climate change projections to understand that Florida should at least be prepared to cope with a rising sea.

Regardless of the cause, sea levels are increasing — eight inches since the 1800s.

Research conducted by the journal Nature Climate Change and released last week found that sea level rose less than previously thought over the last 20 years, but the recent rate had accelerated.

There can be a lot of factors involved in such findings, and they are no cause for a panicky reaction. But there is cause for Florida to diligently study the issue and develop plans and policies that would protect people, commerce and the environment should the sea change our coastline.

Many Florida coastal communities are already experiencing increased flooding that some attribute to rising sea levels. Yet the state has exercised little leadership.

Unfortunately, politics taint the issue. If some liberals push the threat to justify more government control, some conservative activists dismiss climate change and related sea level rise as a hoax and attack any effort to address it.

To be sure, a degree of skepticism about the impact of greenhouse gases and the projections of computer models is justified. Cheap fuel is critical to the economy, so we also should be cautious about rushing to enact burdensome regulatory schemes.

But the reality is that a majority of scientists believe in climate change and sea level rise. Perhaps they are wrong, but with so much at stake, particularly in Florida, it is foolish to ignore what might develop into a costly and dangerous threat.

Eric Buermann, a former general counsel to the Republican Party and South Florida Water Management District governing board member, is a conservative who believes it is folly to delay confronting the issue.

He told The Associated Press: “If I were governor, I’d be out there talking about it every day. Unless you’re going to build a seawall around South Florida, what’s the plan?”

There are no snap solutions. But the state needn’t spend billions to be proactive. Even such modest policies such as curtailing coastal development might save lives and tax dollars if the sea-level rise warnings prove true.

Gov. Rick Scott may remain doubtful about the threat, and that’s his prerogative. But as a successful businessman he should know the value of being prepared for all contingencies.

No one can say with certainty that a rising sea will swamp Florida’s coast. But neither can anyone credibly deny that it is a possibility.

The wise course of action is to rigorously study the threat and be prepared for what the sea brings our way.

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