I had the opportunity on March 19 to visit a meeting of the Miami-Dade County Sea Level Rise Task Force.
As I walked in, John Englander, an oceanographer, consultant, author (and my friend) was wrapping up an insightful presentation on what SLR means for the future of Miami and the surrounding metropolitan areas.
At the conclusion of his remarks, Task Force Chairman Harvey Ruvin asked a number of astute questions of Mr. Englander, as did others on the Task Force. Ruvin, who's dedication to the environment includes participating in the creation of the United Nation's Kyoto Protocol in 1997 on behalf of the United States, "gets" sea level rise and recognizes SLR's impact on society, locally and across the nation.
If anyone can insure the Task Force report will be worth reading across the globe, it is Mr. Ruvin and this dedicated group. They are at the vanguard of local government leaders whose collective voice will require open-minded and careful study by the rest of the nation.
Following the presentation and praise for Mr. Englander's remarks, the Task Force focused on the process of putting together the report it is required to submit to the Miami-Dade County Commission in the coming months. The assignment undertaken by the Task Force members is huge.
According to the County Commission, the group is charged with:
1) "Reviewing relevant data and prior studies and reports regarding the potential impact of sea level rise on public services and facilities, real estate, water and other ecological resources, and property and infrastructure; and
2) Providing a comprehensive and realistic assessment of the likely and potential impacts of sea level rise and storm surge over time."
Once the report is released, the County has publicly committed to review its Comprehensive Development Master Plan and other policies with an eye toward sea level rise.
This effort is another example of how adapting to sea level rise is driven by local initiatives. Washington has started to weigh in on the issue, but that is, in large part, due to grassroots local and community activism.
There is no doubt in my mind the Task Force, on July 1, 2014, will present a world class, detailed and insightful report. Despite its mandate (which is large enough), the report will need to focus not only on the two main goals, but also on how SLR is going to impact real people, including property owners, businesses and renters.
Such consequences will be financial, physical, cultural, legal and psychological. There is no need, nor room, for partisan politics on this issue.
There is concern, however, about harnessing the "political will" to seize on what will be carefully reasoned and studied recommendations of the Task Force and transforming them into viable and forward-looking governmental policies with sustainable ordinances.
Listening to the Task Force proceedings during my visit, I was struck by urgent concerns that after the Task Force completes its detailed labors, the lessons it conveys may be pushed aside or dismissed for political expediency.
I recalled recent remarks from Richard Grosso, an Attorney and Law Professor at Nova South Eastern University’s Shepard Broad Law Center. Mr. Grosso, one of the best communicators about the need for linking law and legal education to realities of climate change (including rising seas), has a compelling message...Our political leaders, at all levels, need the political strength to forge ahead with meaningful solutions if we are going to make a difference today, for tomorrow.
For Miami-Dade County, the test of genuine political leadership with regard to SLR begins when the Task Force Report is released. The work product this group produces cannot be pushed aside or dismissed as "just another report."
Immediate follow-up to the report is required to be ready for changes which are already happening.
One of Mr. Englander's messages to the Task Force is critical to remember. Swelling oceans are not a political issue. Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike will be affected by SLR, and all are already seeing their tax dollars devoted to understanding and adapting to it. Our coast lines are changing, and so must the strength of those on commissions like Miami-Dade County's, if we are going to intelligently adapt, retreat and thrive in coming years.
All of us should thank the Task Force members and Chairman Rubin, and anticipate "must" reading upon release of the report. The Miami-Dade Commission was wise to set up the Task Force, and I am very optimistic it will constructively embrace the final work product.
If the Commission does not, and the citizens of South Florida do not take the upcoming report seriously, we collectively will hurt our community and those who depend upon us to do right today...for tomorrow.
For more details about the role assigned to the Miami-Dade County Sea Level Rise Task Force, click here.