Cutting Carbon to Save South Florida?

South Florida media loves talking about about sea level rise, and that’s a good thing. We need to continue to make educating the public on the effects of sea level rise a top priority. However, there’s an important distinction to make between local adaptation actions and global climate policy that needs to be discussed.

An article making the rounds on Facebook by the Miami New Times entitled, “Leaked Climate Change Report Warns Only Massive Carbon Cuts Will Save Miami,”  published this week, left the impression that local adaptation actions will do nothing to curb the effects of sea level rise. It impressed upon the reader that all of our focus should be on carbon cuts. This is certainly not the case.

The author went so far as to write that,

The report warns that only a sustained, global commitment to forcing down carbon emissions will save places like South Florida.

National Climate Assessment

National Climate AssessmentFirst, the leaked report is a Congressionally-mandated National Climate Assessment, meaning Congress was expecting it. It is not a surprise report. Every four years, a new version comes out. It doesn’t offer policy recommendations, and after skimming the report (I’ll admit that I did not read the whole report in great detail, but have read previous Assessments cover to cover) could not find a statement insisting that the only way to save South Florida is to cut carbon emissions.

Climate Lag

The Earth’s climate system is complex, and effects due to changes in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere take time to make their way through the system. We are locked into a certain amount of sea level rise for the next 30 or so years regardless of the changes we make to our carbon emissions right now. Akin to a speeding car, even slamming on the brakes as hard as possible will not stop it instantaneously.

Our communities, especially across South Florida, must continue to take adaptation actions at a local level. The investments across South Florida to reduce tidal flooding effects are an important part of saving our communities. Taking local adaptation action and cutting carbon pollution is not an either-or choice. Cutting carbon emissions is not the only way to save South Florida, but it is an important part long-term.

Thinking Globally on Sea Level Rise

The actions local governments are currently taking and must continue to take are designed to save their communities now and for the coming decades. Beyond that, the future is quite uncertain. Although we do expect tidal flooding to get worse as sea levels rise. Do we need to ultimately cut carbon emissions? Yes. This is the only way to solve long-term climate change.

There is no one size fits all solution to solving this global crisis. We need both global and local approaches. We cannot wait for national and global actions to address our local challenges. Blasting local approaches because it appears that we are lacking national or global solutions is not helpful. Any action, small or large, to help protect our communities from rising seas is better than no action at all.

Featured image by Benita5 on Pixabay. See: