Like Noah preparing for the great flood, South Florida faces an existential choice. We can either boldly confront the challenge of rising sea levels or live for the moment and simply wish away the inevitable inundation that the world’s climate experts say is surely coming.
My choice is to embrace this challenge, set our goals and build a stronger South Florida. We must embark on a mission to reverse the effects of the unprecedented levels of CO2 the humankind has poured into the atmosphere and, while we are at it, spark innovation and provide economic opportunities for our residents.
The science is fact-based and clear: The news for South Florida is not good.
Biscayne Bay has risen nearly a foot since 1930 and continues to rise at an accelerated rate. Unless we take steps to reverse current trends, South Florida could see an additional two feet of sea level rise as soon at 2045.
If left unaddressed, children born today will enter adulthood having to endure the consequences of our inaction, with failing infrastructure and a limited water supply. Conditions could deteriorate to the point where many portions of Miami-Dade County are completely uninhabitable.
Our generation owes it to every infant and toddler in the community today to take bold steps forward.
We must declare a “climate emergency” for our region and consider every move we make a measure to protect South Florida for the next generation. For example, Miami-Dade County government should commit to the complete “decarbonization” of its operations and infrastructure by 2035. This bold goal will require innovation, conservation and accountability.
A recent study completed for the U.S. Department of Energy by technologist Saul Griffith compared climate action to the unfathomable goal set by President Kennedy in 1961 to put a man on the moon. I believe that we, too, must take on the challenge of successfully completing a climate “moonshot” in Miami-Dade. To do so requires that we fully commit ourselves and reach beyond our perceived abilities to achieve it.
In the meantime, we must optimize our current efforts. First, county department directors should be given decarbonization goals as part of departments’ performance measures. Second, local government regulations should be modified to create an environment that facilitates carbon reduction and incentivizes our private sector partners. Third, the county, in collaboration with local universities, and business and industry leaders can turn their innovative power toward transforming South Florida into the Silicon Valley of green technology.
Decarbonizing county government will not come without costs, but it will also produce verifiable economics benefits. We can only imagine the number of high-paying jobs in research and development, manufacturing, energy, building and finance that being a world-recognized hub for green technology would bring.
We must be prepared to invest in the future, if we are to have a future. I believe we can secure that bright future if we act now. Like the scientists at NASA, the creative people of Miami-Dade County will respond if we recognize the risks, embrace the science, set the goals and work hard toward the building of a “Stronger Miami-Dade.”
Though we do not currently have a solution to every problem we face, we can achieve our “moonshot” if we dare to dream big dreams and do not let ourselves get caught up politically in letting the perfect get in the way of the good.
The science is clear. The atmosphere is warming. The seas are rising. Humans created this problem and humans can fix it. Who better to show the world the way than the resilient, innovative, creative and entrepreneurial people of Miami-Dade County?
Jean Monestime represents District 2 on the Miami-Dade County Commission.
“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.