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Your Life, Your Family and Sea Level Rise...Getting Down To Basics

Friends camping on the beach
As Climate Week NYC takes place from September 21 to September 28, we must not lose focus on how sea level rise (SLR) will affect the average person and business.

Several important events are planned in New York City that week. The United Nations Climate Summit is set for September 23, and will last a scheduled 8 days. The People’s Climate March will take place on Sunday, September 21. Nearly 1,000 organizations are reportedly supporting that march, and it may be the largest climate march in history. The UN Global Private Sector Forum will meet as well to discuss carbon emissions, one of the leading causes of expanding oceans.

But while the vital issues of reducing carbon output and exchanging national commitments to meet the climate and sea level rise challenges we face today will be the week’s topics, we must not lose focus on how sea level rise affects the average person and business, right down to the individual level.

The effect of changing coastlines and water inundation from SLR has many implications for families, workers, educators and employers at the local level.

There's a universe of questions.

How will individual homes be affected?

Will local governments require adaptation on a house-by-house basis by revising ordinances and building codes?

Will real estate prices be impacted?

In threatened areas, will renting affordable housing be an increasing concern as communities adapt to swelling oceans?

Will cities and towns with weak tax bases be forced to make budget cuts that will affect low wage earners?

Will properties will be insurable, and at what cost?

If insurers are not willing to work with homeowners, will mortgage companies force place high cost insurance and promote loan defaults through unreasonable premiums?

Will roads to and from communities be upgraded and protected to continue commerce, transportation and pubic safety?

Will utilities be fortified to provide continued service? At what cost?

Will flood insurance be affordable or just too expensive as the fight surrounding the federal Biggert-

Waters Act evolves?

Will small, medium and large businesses consider moving from vulnerable areas? Will unemployment result?

Will there be local tax increases to fund adaptation efforts? What will be effect on taxpayers?

Will Congress revise the tax code to help property owners, you and me, deal with losses from sea level rise?

Will new jobs be created for construction employees in efforts to build defenses and integrate adaptation measures in affected communities?

Can other sectors of the local community achieve economic growth by putting people to work adapting to sea level rise?

Will schools be relocated from affected areas?

Will the cost of utilities increase as energy companies prepare for mid-century effects of rising oceans?

Are school districts and universities teaching students, your children, the individual financial implications of sea level rise? Will they be properly equipped for the future?

Are financial institutions, state legislatures and Washington ready to provide new tools to help people save for relocation?

Will homeowners and condominium associations in each municipality properly plan for the coming years?

Will community medical facilities and physicians be adequately trained to meet the challenges of water bourne illnesses?

Will local farmers and growers be able to fortify their lands through innovative architectural and engineering strategies to continue production and delivery of food?

Will mental health clinics and practitioners be ready to treat individuals who suffer from the stress and depression resulting from the trauma and losses of neighbors as their communities change or are eventually displaced?

Will places of worship be forced to move by rising oceans? How will religious leaders respond to sea level rise?

Will retirees be forced to alter their plans because of threatened residences?

How will water utility customers deal with rate increases as demand for at-risk fresh water supplies increases?

Will quality of life be adversely affected if we do not start dealing with the extreme local effects of sea level rise?

What happens when state laws are not modernized to meet the challenge of SLR?

These are but a few of the important and critical issues presented by the reality of sea level rise. Over the past year, awareness of swelling ocean waters has spread, but there has been little, if any, significant and meaningful discussion about how SLR will touch individual lives.

There are, however, present day examples of these impacts and how they are, and will, affect the average


In Miami Beach, over $400 million is being spent on storm sewers and pumping stations to keep parts of that barrier island dry during high tides. The City has also just increased its storm-drainage fees by 84 percent, according to the Miami Herald on September 10, to pay for infrastructure improvements. In that City, the impact on individual taxpayers has already hit. Other taxpayers are will not be immune.

Trillions of dollars of the built environment in South Florida, alone, are at risk, according to a commentary published in the Miami Herald on August 30, 2014. The assumption that properties will be insurable is questionable, if we do not act now in the fight against sea level rise, writes Harvey Ruvin, Chair of the Miami-Dade Sea Level Rise Task Force. Insurance rates and underwriting will be a major force in designing how our communities and business leaders react to SLR.

The Weather Channel published an article on June 10, 2014 about a report released by the American Psychological Association and ecoAmerica, entitled "Beyond Storms and Droughts: The Psychological Impacts of Climate Change." According to the article, Americans can expect broad psychological issues due to climate change.

In April of 2014, agricultural leaders met with two Congressman and the public at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida, to express their deep concerns about the future of farms and fields in light of projections of at least 2 feet of sea level rise affecting low elevation areas in South Florida by 2060. Two feet then means gradual inundation up to that time.

The Environmental Protection Agency, PBS (Public Broadcasting), NASA and other organizations already stress curriculum in teaching students at all levels about sea level rise. As public awareness increases, there will be more pressure on educators to prepare students with the scientific and financial literacy foundations to deal with warming oceans. "Climate Literacy" a phrase coined by NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Global Change Research Program, will need to be taught in every place of learning.

The American medical and health insurance communities are not ready to deal with the health threats posed by waterborne diseases resulting from sea level rise. These threats from Climate Change, including SLR, were stressed in the Regional Climate Action Plan Health Impact Assessment issued by the Florida Public Health Institute, Broward County and the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact in March, 2014.

There are countless more examples, many outside of the South Florida area.

Bottom line: The social aspects of sea level rise present questions far beyond the peer-reviewed science and governmental planning for public infrastructure. It’s time for everyone to start asking the hard questions we have asked to ensure a responsible future.

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