Rising Seas and South Florida

"Panama City Florida" by digidreamgrafix at freedigitalphotos.net
“Panama City Florida” by digidreamgrafix at freedigitalphotos.net

In an earlier post, talked about the future of South Florida given sea level rises projected to reach between three and six feet by the end of the century. For me this issue is personal. Although I grew up in rural Southern Ontario, my parents are snow-birds, who spend half their years on the West coast of Florida. My mother, Phyllis Smallman, is a mystery novelist, whose novels are set in coastal Florida and feature a main character, Sherri Travis, who is a bartender. Every novel is named after a drink (check out Margarita Nights on Amazon, or download the free short story Bitty and the Naked Ladies) and evokes the character of these beach side communities. South Florida has so many hidden treasures, from the Morikami Museum and Japanese Garden to the shark feedings at Sandoway House. I love the area, and worry about its future. Recently the New York Times published an article, “Rising Waters threaten South Florida’s Future,” which makes the point that people still doubt the reality of sea level change. I hope that the doubters are right. But I tend to believe the scientists and geologists who say that the Florida Keys and coastal towns that I love will be gone by the end of this century, even though money continues to pour into the region’s coastal real estate. This winter I read The Last Train from Key West, Doris Brady’s memoir of the 1935 Hurricane that wiped out Overseas Railway that rain from Miami to Key West. The construction of the railroad was a remarkable achievement. For anyone curious about the railroad’s construction -and destruction- I’d recommend Les Standiford’s Last Train to Paradise. Florida has always been an environment in which its dangerous to ignore the power of Mother Nature. The UN Climate Change conference takes place this week in Poland, a meeting that has been given special urgency by the tragedy of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. Of course, no single storm can be linked to climate change. But rising seas will put many more communities at risk. Let’s hope that some progress can be made at the talks, for the sake of South Florida’s future.

Professor Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

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