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29 Apr 14 20:47

On April 22, Earth Day, I spent the morning in Miami Beach,Florida, testifying before Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), who was holding a field hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The hearing addressed sea level rise, with a diverse panel of politicians, scientists and private industry experts all providing input.

Senator Nelson explained his reasoning for holding the hearing in South Florida and not Washington: Miami Beach is "ground zero" for climate change. It most certainly is; according to NOAA, sea level rise has been occurring in Miami Beach at a rate of 2.39 mm/year, which equates to an increase of 0.78 feet in 100 years. With much of Miami Beach only 4 feet above sea level, the sea level rise which has already occurred is worsening coastal flooding, with some areas inundated daily during high tide. Additional sea level rise will only further exacerbate the problem.

This was my first experience testifying in front of Congress, and one of the few times I've witnessed politicians openly discuss climate change, and be unencumbered by the small, but very vocal, sect of climate change deniers. What struck me is that the discussion around climate change has moved beyond seemingly abstract concepts such as altered hurricane probabilities; to a large degree, it's even moved beyond the scope of just debating infrastructure protection and costs.

The discussion that now weaves throughout so much of the climate change dialogue is what we, as a society and a culture, have to lose. Mayor Levine of Miami Beach, spoke of the intricate tapestry of cultures that shape Miami Beach; a fusion of Latin, American and Caribbean which is found nowhere else. Commissioner Jacobs mentioned meeting a small business owner who was considering buying a shop in an area of Broward County prone to tidal flooding; after seeing the extent of the floods during high tide, he decided to invest elsewhere. In his opening remarks, Senator Nelson related a story from his youth; he, of Anglo-Saxon descent, was a Latin dancer during a parade in the Miami area. All of their messages undercut the same theme: This place helped shape who we are, it is special and unique, and we want to keep it here for future generations to experience.

I can relate to their stories; just 6 months ago, I myself wrote a post on this very blog discussing how it is what we feel after a natural disaster that we need to harness when considering how to approach climate change. However, after spending just that one morning in Miami, and, coincidentally, on the 18 month anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, I realize we need to consider more than just the waves of emotion immediately post natural disaster. We also need to acknowledge that the little things, which occur every day, and the positive feelings they generate, are important, and need to contemplate what it would be like if all these tiny aspects of our local cultures, many of which we do not consciously notice, were to disappear. And while I didn't grow up in Miami Beach, appreciating the culture so eloquently described by the others this Earth Day, my short time in Miami made me realize how much growing up in the culture of the Jersey Shore shaped who I am. The Asbury Park Press got it right when a published article contained the following quote, "The Jersey Shore, for those of us born and raised here, is more than a summertime destination. It is in our bones and blood. It defines our state and it defines us."

Miami Beach, New Orleans, the Jersey Shore, Coney Island, Breezy Point, Nantucket; this certainly isn't an exhaustive list of unique coastal cultures and it doesn’t matter which culture you grew up in. We must preserve all of these cultures and the sites on which they exist; future generations should have the same privilege of experiencing them.


Category: Climate/natural disasters: Climate change, Disaster risk, Floods/storms, Resilience

Location: Miami Beach, FL, United States


2 Comments

Patrice Tscherrig - 30 Apr 2014, 11:44 p.m.

Dear Megan,
Thanks very much for this. I actually think that is a perfect approach of how to communicate to the outside world. We as scientists tend to be lost in probabilities and 50 years+ plus outlooks. But we have to be aware that these probabilities actually mean something - to people - in their daily live. If not now then soon: for our Children.
So meanwhile it is important to have the correct scientific view on things - including all the complexities - shouldn't we rather say to the outside: "think what climate change will mean for your local community"?

Erika Frey-Hasegawa - 5 May 2014, 9:45 p.m.

Congrats, Megan! Testifying must have been a nerve wracking but exciting experience. Thanks for sharing the details as well as for "keeping it real" -- your personal insights were the cherry on top! Having lived in both Long Beach, CA and Long Beach, NY, I share your conviction that the beach community is truly unique. What a tremendous loss it would be to society if this culture were washed away...


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