On the eve of the County’s second budget hearing, the voices of many who pressed for the administration to take sea-level rise seriously were finally heeded.
It surely helped that in the afternoon of the budget hearing – precisely at 4:30 pm in the Strategic Planning and Government Operations Committee (SPAGO) – two commissioners and at least one city mayor (South Miami’s Phillip Stoddard) argued forcefully for a budget allocation of $500,000.
Alas, in an eleventh-hour amendment to the budget, Mayor Gimenez caved in and earmarked $300,000 for that purpose – not what Commissioner Levine-Cava and I argued for, but at least a start.
This did not satisfy most of the speakers at the actual budget hearing, which began minutes after 5:00 PM and lasted for over five hours on September 17, 2015. Particularly poignant was the testimony of a handful of students from Palmer Trinity and another handful from MAST Academy.
The concern of both students and activists can best be illustrated by the two graphs shown below. The first depicts sea level rise as measured during the last century. It shows a near-perfect straight line that ascends at a precise rate of 3 mm/year. Extrapolating from this set of data, it would take about one hundred years for sea level to rise just one foot.
More troubling is the second graph (below) which concentrates on the last 18 years and measures sea level at a specific location, whose proximity to all of us makes this what we can call the “graph-of-serious-concern.” The average increase over the last five years is 1.2 inches (3.2258 cm) per year, which is more than ten times the historical 100 year slope.
The reason I say that is evident from the numbers shown in the graph, which show what could be an exponential rise in the extrapolated curve, such that we could see a foot or more of sea-level rise in the next 35 years, rather than in the next century.
18-Year Trend from University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science (Virginia Key):
And it gets more troublesome than that after 2050, if the exponential trend were to take hold.
This is the quandary that faces our region, which has been called “Ground Zero” in what could be a serious environmental problem for low-lying areas like Miami-Dade.
Before the budget hearings even took place, I had begun discussions with the University of Miami’s administrators, with the purpose of funding one or more scholarships for those students who best predict the sea level, as will be measured at the Rosenstiel School in five years from the last readings (2014). Students will be challenged to predict the rising of the sea a level between 2014 and 2019.
I also intend to bring the idea to Palmer Trinity School, MAST Academy, and any high school that wishes to engage its students in this issue and in the serious study of actual, measurable observations. That way the discussion can take a truly scientific vein, and not be mired in blaming politicians for their inaction.
Through private sources, I plan to initiate the scholarship fund with a $5,000 donation. I am hoping to match or exceed that with donations from others of greater means.
Miami-Dade will henceforth distinguish itself for its action, rather than its inaction in the sea-level rise reality.
Commissioner Xavier L. Suarez can be reached at 305-669-4003 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.