Editor’s note:Florida Sen. Bill Nelson made these remarks, edited for length, on the Senate floor Thursday about climate change and sea-level rise. We’ve offered Gov. Rick Scott a similar opportunity to share his views on how to address sea-level rise.
Mr. President, I want to talk today about what’s happening to the coastal communities in Florida.
Yesterday, NOAA, that’s the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, released data that the contiguous United States had the warmest May on record. The heat is having real world impacts.
During 2017, the average high-tide flooding was the highest ever recorded. And in 2018, NOAA predicts that high-tide flooding will be 60 percent more frequent across U.S. coastlines than it was in 2000 — primarily because of sea-level rise.
We got a glimpse of this when four years ago, I took our Commerce Committee to Miami Beach and had a hearing. One of the witnesses was a NASA scientist, Dr. Pierce Sellers, a very prestigious scientist and former astronaut who, unfortunately, we lost to cancer just recently. He said by the end of the century, the intensity of hurricanes will increase, but even if hurricane frequency and intensity were not to change, rising sea levels and coastal development will likely increase the impact of hurricanes and other coastal storms on the coastal communities — and the resulting effects on their infrastructure.
I’d like you to take a peek at a picture. This is a sunny day in Miami Beach, a sunny day that the king tide is flooding Miami Beach. This happens frequently at high tide. So what has the City of Miami Beach had to do? Spend tens of millions of dollars on big, big pumps, raise the level of the road to try to alleviate this problem.
This is happening with some frequency in South Florida, where Dr. Sellers had testified back in 2014 that — Projections? No. Forecasts? No. — measurements actually showed that the sea had risen over the last four decades five to eightinches.
Let’s take another look at another flooding. This is downtown Sarasota. Look at this car on the street. Pictures don’t seem to tell a false story.
We held another field hearing in West Palm Beach a year ago, and the Broward County Resilience Officer showed a video of a man biking along the city of FortLauderdale sidewalk — submerged in water. In other words, what’s happened in Miami Beach is happening in the Las Olas area of FortLauderdale.
Then we took the committee to St. Petersburg, which is on the opposite coast, the Gulf Coast, where the city has designed its new pier out of floating docks to accommodate the rising seas as they rise up and down in Tampa Bay.
Or how about St. Augustine, where the public works department is seeing nuisance flooding from high tides that overwhelms their stormwater system?
All of these are examples of how sea-level rise affects coastal Florida on sunny days, not rainstorm days, and the NASA scientists at our hearing were talking about how climate could exacerbate damage from hurricanes.
Why? Because if the water is warmer, that’s the fuel for a hurricane. That’s what is sucked up into that vortex as the hurricane feeds itself. The hotter the water it’s over, the more ferocious and likely frequency of those storms. And the sea-level rise compounds the storm surge and the rain-induced flooding.
Here’s an image that shows what Florida’s coastal communities face when the sun is not shining. This is during a rainstorm. Here’s flooding in Jacksonville.
You can see a sign that says “No skateboarding” is almost completely engulfed by the rising water.
And then you think about what about a place further south on the latitudes, Puerto Rico. Hurricane Maria absolutely ravaged that island, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that climate change and sea-level rise are putting people’s lives and their property at risk. It’s reality.
I want you to come with me to Florida. I want to show you these impacts. I want you to come and see what’s happening as a result of the rising water.
The real question is, what are we going to do about it?
There are two pieces to the solution. One is, we’re going to have to stop putting so many gases into the air, called greenhouse gases. CO2 carbon dioxide and methane are the two big culprits. And part of the solution is climate mitigation. It means we must invest in new technology in the economy of the future, things like wind, solar, electric vehicles and more-efficient buildings.
And we’re going to have to make our communities more resilient. This is called climate change adaptation. You don’t have to agree with climate science to know that it makes sense. It makes dollars and cents to do this.
We’re talking about strengthening our building codes to withstand wind events. We’re talking about restoring the function of the floodplains so that when two to three feet of rainwater suddenly gets dumped in one place, it can absorb and gradually recede. We’re talking about rebuilding natural flood protection, like sand dunes and beaches.
In the Commerce Committee, we’ve heard countless stories from local government officials that if they could have invested before the natural catastrophe that hit them, they would have saved the federal government a lot of money by avoiding the enormous cost of the disaster response and relief itself, not to mention reducing the risk of human life.
The proof is in front of our very eyes. The photos that we have shown, they don’t lie. And yet here we are upon another hurricane season. Of course, we hope the big storms don’t come, but the likelihood is that they are. And remember, they don’t necessarily go just to Florida.
We hope we don’t see any more of these harrowing images, but as we hope, we’re going to have to act because what we’ve shown here in these photos today is not about projections. It’s about real-time observation. Let’s quit ignoring the obvious.
“The Invading Sea” is a collaboration of four South Florida media organizations — the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald, Palm Beach Post and WLRN Public Media.