In April 2016, I editorially suggested that sea level rise was a growing threat to St. Augustine. In response to that column, I received a handful of emails accusing me of spreading an unfounded, unscientific, left-wing fable of doom and gloom.
I wrote, “Notwithstanding ongoing debates about global warming and climate change, the water is rising. No question about that. Slowly but surely, the water is rising. And, while we need to find ways to minimize the inevitable damage, we can’t hold back the Atlantic Ocean.”
A year later, the Jacksonville Times-Union lauded St. Augustine Mayor Nancy Shaver for her leadership in drawing attention to sea level rise in Northeast Florida and her work with Resiliency Florida — a public/private advocacy group helping coastal counties and communities prepare for the inevitable.
The April 7 Florida Times-Union editorial noted, “The sea is reclaiming part of (St. Augustine). It’s just a matter of how much. There is some time, but the longer the city waits to act the fewer choices there will be,” adding, “To ignore it would be an incredible act of irresponsibility toward our children and grandchildren.”
I agree with the Times-Union and join it in recognizing Mayor Shaver’s efforts.
Although the damage caused by Hurricane Matthew last October and Irma this September went far beyond sea level rise, those two storms did remind us that living along the Florida coast can definitely test our will, perseverance and pocketbooks.
A recent article in The Record included comments from Jesse Keenan — a man who researches the effects of rising sea levels on cities. Storm surge from hurricanes, along with flooding associated with ongoing climate change, concerns Keenan, who warns, “A lot is going to change in 30 years — this is just the beginning.”
Among the many things Keenan does, other than lecture about architecture at Harvard, is serve as a climate change advisor to the American Institute for Architects and the American Society of Civil Engineers — neither organization being apocalyptic, left-wing doomsayers.
Mayor Shaver believes in order to get a broad-based commitment for dealing with sea level rise, the phrase “climate change” needs to be avoided. During an interview on WJCT-FM in Jacksonville, she said, “The minute you go there, you aren’t able to focus on the issues at hand, which are really, ‘What is it that we do to adapt and to build anew?’”
She told listeners avoiding the term “climate change” helps keep politics from getting in the way of policy. I understand that kind of approach, but climate change is a fact, not an imaginary pseudoscience bogeyman, so let’s call it what it is.
In April, the St. Augustine City Commission learned from a University of Florida study that the sea level rise here over the next 15 to 85 years will likely be from a couple inches to more than 6 feet.
As noted at that 2016 meeting, planning for future sea level rise and ongoing flooding impacts needs to start now — not kicked down a dead-end road already littered with empty tin cans. In that regard, Mayor Shaver is leading the way. And good for her.
Although coastal cities in the Netherlands are actually below sea level and face potential flooding issues far greater than our frequent nuisance floods, Arnoud Molenaar, climate chief for the city of Rotterdam, has some sage advice:
“A smart city has to have a comprehensive, holistic vision beyond levees and gates,” he said in June. “The challenge of climate adaptation is to include safety, sewers, housing, roads and emergency services. And you need public awareness.”
Let’s hope Resiliency Florida is able to calmly examine sea level rise threats, come up with doable solutions and suggestions and advise the public accordingly.
If that happens, Nancy might become St. Augustine’s version of the little Dutch boy who put his finger in a dike and saved Holland.
Steve can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org