Preparing our region for sea-level rise and other effects of climate change is so massive a task that it can’t possibly succeed without the broad participation of the people who live and work here.
The good news is that more of our local officials are realizing that — and doing something about it.
Case in point: Ten municipalities and the county government have banded together in a collaboration they’re calling the Southeast Palm Beach County Coastal Resilience Partnership to take a coordinated approach to a challenge they realize they’re all facing together.
“Approaching climate adaptation as a regional partnership,” says Rebecca Harvey, Boynton Beach’s sustainability coordinator, “will enable our communities to avoid costs, while creating a more robust and consistent approach to climate adaptation.
“We know we need to plan now to create more resilient systems,” she told The Post Editorial Board. And for a very practical reason: it’s less expensive to protect yourself in advance than to repair and rebuild after disaster hits. “You can spend a dollar now — or $6 later,” she said.
The partnership consists of Boca Raton, Boynton Beach, Briny Breezes, Delray Beach, Gulf Stream, Highland Beach, Hypoluxo, Lake Worth, Lantana, Ocean Ridge and the county government. It’s inspired by the forward-looking collaboration established 10 years ago by the four-county Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact.
The county group’s first organizational meeting was in February. They’re laying the groundwork for a year-long assessment, starting in October, of the area’s vulnerabilities to sea-level rise, storm surges and extreme temperatures. A careful inventory is needed because the sea-rise impacts in Palm Beach County are almost certain to be different than in Miami Beach or Fort Lauderdale; we’re at a higher elevation.
West Palm Beach has already done such an inventory, with the help of researchers from the University of North Carolina-Asheville, and found that rain-induced flooding, not sea-level rise, is a more immediate threat to the city because of that higher ground upon which the city is situated. Only 3 percent of parcels in the city “will be impacted by sea-level rise in the shorter term,” says Penni Redford, who heads the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability in West Palm Beach. But that’s a valuable 3 percent: prominent buildings, many of them, are along the Intracoastal Waterway.
Flagler Drive in West Palm already floods during King Tides. To meet that problem — and increases in flooding expected with heavier rainfall region-wide — West Palm is acting on what it calls “the first holistic stormwater plan in South Florida,” a project that combines resiliency planning with traditional capital improvements. When it’s finished, residents will save some $6 million each year in flood insurance premiums, according to the city’s website.
West Palm has even set the ambitious — more likely, impossible — goal of net zero greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050, one city’s bid to slow the rise of global temperatures. From planting trees to encouraging solar power, electric vehicles and green buildings, the city is keeping climate change in mind as projects move forward, Redford told the Editorial Board.
All this comes when, at last, real help may be coming from Florida state government. Gov. Ron DeSantis has created the position of Chief Resilience Officer, someone whose job it will be to coordinate Florida’s preparations for “environmental, physical and economic impacts of climate change, especially sea level rise”, according to a job posting; 26 people applied for the post, which is yet to be filled. The person will work in the governor’s office to ensure resilience is incorporated in all departments. It’s a stark change from the eight years of Gov. Rick Scott, who reportedly banned the terms “climate change” and “global warming” from state correspondence.
County residents and visitors should be glad to know that local governments are mobilizing to meet the growing reality of sea-level rise and ever-hotter temperatures. No doubt some of the planners’ goals will meet tough opposition when they clash with the reality of residents’ property rights, businesses’ bottom lines and everyone’s tax burden.
Then again, the burden of addressing the climate change threat belongs to all of us — residents, businesses and governments alike. So these will be fights we need to have. Because temperatures are going to keep rising and so will sea levels. All of us need to be thinking how to do a better job of protecting ourselves from flooding and other impacts. And a better job of slowing this massive global change.
This editorial is part of The Invading Sea, an award-winning collaboration of the Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald and Sun Sentinel editorial boards and WLRN Public Media.