Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Is Florida Finis?

It's going to be a tough century for places like the state of Florida.  For all its many challenges, the greatest one facing this retirement Mecca is climate change.

Low-lying Florida has water problems, too much and too little.   The too much is seawater.   The too little is freshwater.   Heavy demand for freshwater by Florida and its neighbour states of Georgia and Alabama.  In October, 2007, all three states sued the Army Corps of Engineers, claiming it played favourites with the others in allocating water supplies.

In June, 2011, the Miami Herald put Florida's water crisis this way:

"At the north end of the sprawling Everglades system, endangered snail kites are abandoning nests from the Kissimmee River basin down to Lake Okeechobee. Marshes in the heart of the Everglades are burning or shriveling into cracked mud.

"On the east coast, oysters are dying as sea water pushes deeper into the brackish St. Lucie River estuary. On the west, explosions of toxic algae are killing fish and triggering public health warnings in the Caloosahatchee River. At the south end of the Glades, stretches of coastal Florida Bay mangroves have dipped into unhealthy hyper-salinity.

"The ecological damage from one of South Florida’s worst droughts is deepening, water managers said Thursday, and rain is going to have to arrive soon —and in big buckets — to heal it.

“This has essentially overwhelmed and taken a toll on the entire natural system from top to bottom,’’ said Linda Lindstrom, director of restoration sciences for the South Florida Water Management District.

"The drought is just one challenge confronting the district, which also began the process Thursday of meeting demands from the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott to reduce property tax rates and slash $128 million from the budget of an agency that oversees the water supply and flood control for 16 counties."

That's right.  In response to the state's water crisis, its governor slashed the budget of the sole agency overseeing the state's water supply for 16-counties.

But it's seawater that will cause Florida's greatest problems.   A new study published in the peer-reviewed journal, Environmental Research Letters,  warns that, by 2030, the risk of a "once in a century" flood will double or even triple for the five million Americans living along the country's coasts.   Low-lying areas, just like Florida, will be particularly susceptible.  Co-author of the reports, Ben Strauss, notes that south Florida is essentially indefensible.

Global warming will more than double the odds of once-a-century floods by 2030 for more than two-thirds of the 55 coastal locations considered in the analysis, the Climate Central report said. For a majority of the locations, warming triples the odds of century floods.

By 2030, storm surges combined with rising seas could raise waters to 4 feet or more above high tide lines at many locations, the reports said, noting that 4.9 million people live in 2.6 million homes in this vulnerable zone between the observed high tide and the top of expected flood waters.

Cities are likely to be hit hardest, Strauss said, with 90 percent of the impact projected to come in areas with extremely dense population.

In 285 coastal cities and towns, more than half the population lives below the 4-foot mark, the Climate Central report found. Florida has 106 of these at-risk municipalities; Louisiana has 65, New Jersey and North Carolina have 22 each, Maryland has 14, New York has 13 and Virginia has 10.

Florida is a special case because in addition to rising seas and storm surges, its geology and system of drainage canals pose complex problems. "Basically, south Florida in the long term is indefensible," Strauss said.

"A lot of the state is built on porous bedrock, bedrock that's like Swiss cheese," he said. "You can't practically build a wall to keep the sea out. The water will come up through the ground."

And Florida's porous bedrock poses another, potentially greater problem - seawater inundation of the already stressed freshwater resources.   The freshwater Everglades are already suffering the onset of salination which poses a threat to plants and wildlife alike and a risk of contamination to essential agricultural irrigation.

In Louisiana with its heavily developed Mississippi estuary, the study finds 666,000 residents, representing almost 15% of the state's population and homes, are at a 1 in 6 risk of storm surge inundation by 2020, a risk that is expected to increase substantially thereafter.

Fortunately the Deep South knows better than a bunch of dumb-ass scientists peddling their global warming hoax.  Why Rush tells them as much just about every day.

There's a tipping point to storm surge inundations.   Once particularly vulnerable areas become no longer viable for habitation (i.e. insurers simply refuse coverage), it is expected to create a visible "internally displaced population" problem.  IDPs have, until now, been more commonly associated with sectarian war zones like Iraq.   A lot of those not initially displaced will also be rethinking the viability of their coastal living, adding to the numbers seeking to relocate inland.   This comes with terrific costs and impacts, especially for debt-ridden state governments with populations demanding ever greater tax cuts or in the midst of water crises.

What Georgia, Florida and Alabama have shown is that, while the "good neighbour" policy still exists for standard natural disasters, when it comes to water, it's every man for himself.


e.a.f. said...

It is hopeful that someone has a good look at the future of water in the U.S.A. The focus to date has been oil but you can't drink oil & you can't live without water.

Large contributors to the political parties do not want politicians to focus on future problems because it will effect their bottom line.

The U.S.A. needs to start looking at their population growth & keep it in line with their water supply.

Canada isn't going to be too interested in shipping theirs to the U.S.A. & at the rate water is being used in Canada for the tar sands & fracking Canada will start having water problems.

The Mound of Sound said...

A lot of work is underway to address the American south's water challenges. Unfortunately a lot of the planning is still being based on water patterns of the last century that may not be reliable indicators of what to expect in the future.

In societies slavishly bound to growth-driven economics, there is a powerful resistance to entertaining alternate models of reduced populations and declining economic activity. Unfortunately, effective climate change adaptation is based on staying ahead of deteriorating conditions, not trying to address them after they have set in. Societies that lack the political will to act in advance of problems tend to survive. Societies that try to play catch up invite the fate of the Mayans, the ancient Mesopotamians or the Easter Islanders.

Anonymous said...

They can always pray!!!

Anonymous said...

I find myself utterly terrified by what's coming and the general lack of concern of those around me in the city that I live in. People like the warm winter, but I look at the thermometer and feel fear.

It's been carzy warm out here on the East coast, Really, really warm all winter. No snow build-up at all. I am torn between selling up and going rural while we still can or staying put in the city ( not too large).

And I truly believe that there is no hope at all for change, I think we're all fucked. It's really a battle within myself at this point, the fear just freezes me completely like a rabbit in the headlights.

And Canada is sliding into Fascism at the same time. It's unbelieveable and I'm really unsure of how I will cope.

I also noticed that Environment Canada now only lists the last three years as easily accesible historical data. You can still get the older data but you have to dig to get it.

I go to this site to get my forecasts

And up until the start of this year the historical data went back to the 50's or 60's. Now 2009 is the oldest data listed! I thought it was the site I visit but then I checked the data feed and it's Environment Canada doing it. Another Harper dictate I'm sure. Fuck.

Love the blog by the way. Sorry to rant but It can help a bit.

The Mound of Sound said...

Hi, Anon. The Guardian has called it "global weirding." Britain, for example, has been hit by an extremely cold but also extremely dry winter which threatens the southern region with severe drought this summer.

The British Met Office has now linked Europe's winter deep freeze to the loss of Arctic sea ice. We now have an "Arctic Oscillation" that's playing hell with North America as well. You're unduly warm. Here on the other coast we're getting hit by waves of fronts bearing gale force or higher winds and snow, sleet and hail. An hour north of me is Mt. Washington. They logged 130+ cms. of snow in a four hour span a few days back.

I was born and raised in Ontario, relocating to BC in the late 70s. The Ontario I knew had four distinct seasons with pretty reliable conditions for each. That is no longer the case, especially for winter. Yet there is an amnesia effect that comes into play. We begin to accept as "normal" what we have experienced in the recent past and quickly lose sight of what was historically normal.

The point you brought out about Environment Canada suggests an institutional amnesia has come into play. That would certainly seem to suit a government that wants a tranquil public while it pursues dreams of energy superpowerdom.

What infuriates me is that Canada is one of just a handful of countries that has options to mitigate the impacts of global warming - if only we take advantage of these opportunities. Yet we're saddled with a government that refuses the acknowledge the problems much less take any action on them.

Anyong said...

Anon: 10;27 Don't allow our government to make you is what they want. Join an environmental group so you are able to voice your thoughts through an organization. Cheers

Stewart said...

Mound of Sound and Anyong,

Thank you both for your thoughtful replies to my comments on this and the previous post. It is so good to not be viewed as having extremist views or as over reacting to what is taking shape re: the warming.

Appreciate the recommendation about the book Collapse, MOS, my wife may actually have that book, though I'm not sure if if I can handle knowing more than the general outlines of his theses.

I do get the sense that fear is driving many people towards an almost nero-esque response. Without leadership, I don't think that anybody feels as though they can have any impact.

It seems like yesterday that I used to see the government logo on buildings and papers and feel I lived in a Nation governed by reasonable people. How things have changed.

I totally agree with what you say about the possibilities for Canada. I believe the same and felt some hope relating to that until Harper came along.

I have read many posts by people who think that a new government, NDP or Liberal will be unable to reverse the damage Harper is doing. I'm not convinced of that. I think that the mean spiritedness that has come out of the closet in this country is the proverbial cat out of the bag. It took a long time to get that cat in the bag and I don't think that the time or resources will be there to put it back. I am rather cynical though, so I guess I'll have to wait and see.

In terms of location, I do think that perhaps those folk on the two coasts, being as far away as possible from the capital, have a beter chance. It seems to me that the Americans on the East and West coasts are the most sane in the US and that means that some rational people stand between the Southern US and BC and NS. The problem with many Americans and Canadians is that they have no willingness or ability to concieve of a lifestyle that is less than what they have now, and that kind of change takes time.

Glodal weirding indeed. The food insecurity alone will be monumental. Are you in a rural spot where you can grow a good sized garden? I am the second generation to be away from a farm and that instinct is really strong in me. I would say that this issue is of greatest direct concern to me.

In the bigger picture I find the fact that we are going to have caused the deaths of countless creatures just staggering. Nature is so infinitly miraculous, I don't think that mankind has done anything in its history that can compare to the miracle of smallest dragonfly, beetle or bee.

We are such a damned egotistical species and it will finish us.

Anyong, that's a good suggestion.

Again, thanks for your feedback and ideas, I do feel better than I did earlier.

The Mound of Sound said...

Stewart, greetings. Thanks for your comments. I'm glad you're interested in checking out Jared Diamond's "Collapse." What I'd also ask you to do is get a copy of Malclom Gladwell's, "The Tipping Point" from you library.

What Tipping Point explores is how remarkably easy it is to establish a critical mass for reform that, once achieved, becomes unstoppable. The pace of the inevitable change can vary quite a lot but the key is to reach that tipping point which they suggest is a 10% threshhold. After that, the idea assumes a life of its own.

Lest you think this is "pie in the sky" optimism, it's not. Long ago I chronicled on this blog how Canada, in particular, and the world in general has had a variety of options to deal with climate change and associated challenges since they were first effectively identified in the 60s.

The first and best of these options slipped through our fingers before we understood the problem. Several of the "next best" options have likewise been foreclosed. That, however, isn't the point we need to recognize.

The point is that the options we've foregone are spilt milk, they're history. What must be our focus now is to embrace the best remaining options before they, too, are foreclosed. To make sense of this we must bear in mind that, eventually, we will embrace some adaptation strategies out of sheer survival but the longer we wait the fewer and worse will be the options remaining to us.

In other words, Stewart, it is always in our and our kids' and grandkids' interests to keep pushing for the "best possible" solution remaining to us at any given point.

I so hope that this makes sense. Please, if you have any questions or thoughts, leave another comment.



Anyong said...

Also Dr. Michael E. Mann's book "The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars" is a good read as well.

Anyong said...

This is inspiration. What one person can do with determination.... It's a good listen... Friday March 16, 2012 .Vandana Shiva (Feature Interview)
Her influence has taken root in India and is growing around the world. She's fighting for farmers, the seeds they plant and the food we eat. Today, we speak with environmental activist Vandana Shiva.

Listen: (Pop-up). This is really interesting. If you want to listen go to I was surprised that India is returning to small farms and getting rid of Monsanto.

tahera said...

The government is more concerned about oil rather than water, maybe the people and NGO's should start taking initiatives to save water. Foot Doctors South FL

The Mound of Sound said...

Hi Tahera. One thing that I know is that public opinion in the most heavily impacted areas will change when they must. The question is what options will remain available to them when they finally get around to demanding action.

There are many responses and solutions to climate change impacts. There were more. The best of these slipped through our fingers in the 70s before we truly understood the facts. Others have since been foreclosed by the effects of time and inaction. We tend to work our way down the "next best" list.

Not every impact can be successfully controlled. There are points at which adaptation becomes unviable, technically or economically.

Societies need to stay ahead of the problem but we don't operate that way. We have to wait until we reach some "bad enough" threshhold before we act. That's incredibly foolish but isn't that the story of mankind?