Permanent Evacuation

There is one topic that is unlikely to be raised in the presidential primary debates, especially to the relief of the two Republican contenders from Florida.

No moderator is expected to query presidential aspirants about the long-term impacts of rising sea levels and what to do about them. Those would be particularly vexing questions for Florida home boys Jeb Bush and Senator Marco Rubio. A candid answer would entail facing up to the eventuality of having to evacuate certain portions of South Florida. How else to escape permanent inundation from projected global warming-related rising tides?

If Florida's environmental vulnerability were ever interjected into the debates, the odds are that Bush and Rubio would punt. After all, they hail from a state highly dependent on tourism, and thus, on geological stability. Maybe that is why the two candidates have been having difficulty bringing themselves to acknowledge the validity of a manmade climate change threat.
The unfolding scenario becomes even more awkward for this "missing in action" duo, given the activism of many local officials in coastal Florida communities. These officials are scrambling to draft contingency plans for future rising sea levels. And while their planning may not involve something as drastic as picking up and leaving, they are making provision for relocating extremely vulnerable structures inland as a last resort.

Since Americans are prone to view "home as their castle," permanent evacuation is admittedly a difficult step to contemplate. Nonetheless, a responsible political leader should not ignore future generations in the course of serving present ones. Some anticipatory planning is in order.

Failure to take the future into account could weigh heavily on our descendants. University of Miami geological science professor Harold Wanless has been studying the effect of climate change on South Florida for years. He warns that sooner or later, much of the population in the region will have to move. That is not such an outlandish prediction if estimates of an eventual six foot sea level rise along the South Florida coast turns out to be accurate. Under those circumstances, roughly half of densely populated Miami-Dade County would be under water.

If this sea change is destined to occur, how much time do we have for making the appropriate adjustments? No one knows for sure. Nevertheless, some people are in a better position than others to speculate. For instance, Florida International bioscience Professor Phillip Stoddard, who is also mayor of South Miami Beach, believes that 20 years from now, some coastal towns in the sunshine state will begin fading away as environmental pressures mount.

Should that be the case, the real challenge will be whether eventual relocation is a gradual, orderly retreat, or a panicked, unruly flight that leaves individual residents at loose ends and the state's economy in shambles.