Take sea- level rise seriously

On the eve of Miami- Dade County’s second budget hearing, the voices of many who pressed for the administration to take sea-level rise seriously were finally heeded.

suarez_rightIt surely helped that in the afternoon of the budget hearing — precisely at 4:30 p.m. 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 11th-hour amendment to the budget, Mayor Carlos Gimenez caved in and earmarked $300,000 for that purpose — not what Commissioner Daniella 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 p.m. and lasted for over five hours on Sept. 17. 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 is that sea level rise, as measured during the last century, 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 100 years for sea level to rise just one foot.

More troubling is the last 18 years which measures sea level at a specific location, whose proximity to all of us makes this what we can call something of serious concern. The average increase over the last five years is 1.2 inches (3.2258 cm) per year, which is more than 10 times the historical 100 year slope.

Based on these numbers we could see a foot or more of sea-level rise in the next 35 years, rather than in the next century. 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.

For information, call 305-669-4003 or visit online at district7@miamidade.gov.

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