If scientists are right, rising seas will one day swamp the “Winter White House,” part-time home to a president who has labeled climate change a hoax.
President Donald Trump has said he’s “not a believer in man-made global warming.” Less than an hour after he became president, most references to climate change disappeared from the official White House website.
But people like Palm Beach County Commissioner Steven Abrams, a Republican, say Trump should seriously consider the risks to his prized waterfront property, the Mar-a-Lago club and resort in Palm Beach, where he is spending this weekend.
“Even though he’s president, Mar-a-Lago is not invulnerable to sea level rise,” Abrams said.
Trump’s views on global warming conflict with worst-case scenarios from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which projects sea levels rising by more than 6 feet by the end of the century. At that level, the sea would swallow up a portion of Mar-a-Lago, along with surrounding properties in Palm Beach.
Harold Wanless, chairman of the geological sciences department at the University of Miami, said he thinks that models underestimate sea level rise and that Trump’s property could be threatened even sooner. The 20-acre estate is nestled between the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean.
As the ocean rises, Mar-a-Lago will become more vulnerable to seasonal king tides, coastal erosion and storm surge. Wanless said he expects most of South Florida’s barrier islands will become uninhabitable by the middle of the century as roads and sewage systems are swamped by the rising waters.
“The flooding will become so frequent on barrier islands it will become an unacceptable risk,” he said.
Wanless and nine other Florida scientists sent a letter in December to Mar-a-Lago requesting a meeting with Trump on climate change.
“Many of Florida’s waterfront properties (including yours) are vulnerable to even minor increases in sea level because of erosion and storm surge,” they wrote. “This is not a distant threat. Climate change is making an impact today.”
There are already areas where oceanfront homes and condominiums, particularly in lower-lying Miami-Dade and Broward counties, will become unlivable and unsellable within a 30-year period, the length of a common mortgage, because of sea level rise, Wanless said.
Trump has taken a different tone in his public statements. He famously tweeted in 2012 that the Chinese created global warming to hurt U.S. manufacturing.
But as a businessman, Trump also moved to protect a golf course in Ireland against the projected effects of climate change. In a meeting with reporters and editors at The New York Times after the election, Trump said there may be “some connectivity” between human activity and climate change.
He also said he would keep an “open mind” on keeping the United States in the Paris climate agreement, which has been signed by more than 174 countries and seeks to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). The agreement requires countries present national plans on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. While targets are not legally binding, participants must report their emissions and progress on meeting goals.
In South Florida, both Republicans and Democrats have acted on climate change, putting millions into improving drainage, elevating roads and hiring climate change planners.
Palm Beach County joined a regional compact on climate change in 2010 with Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties. In 2015, Palm Beach County commissioners hired a climate change coordinator, a position that pays $86,000 a year.
While local efforts have not received large sums of federal dollars, Trump’s stance could have an effect if federal agencies don’t play as active of a role on researching climate change, said Jason Liechty, environmental projects coordinator for Broward County.
“We stand to lose the technical assistance, the support, the help that the federal government provided,” he said.
The only references to climate change on the White House is a pledge in Trump’s “America First Energy Plan” to eliminate “harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule.”
Abrams, one of two Republicans on the seven-member Palm Beach County Commission, said his constituents in Boca Raton are worried that rising seas will inundate expensive oceanfront properties.
“At the local level,” he said, “I don’t have the luxury of engaging in these lofty debates that they do in Washington — when I am knee deep in flooding in my coastal communities.”
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