Miami lives with impacts of climate change

Experts: property and people at stake

MIAMI – Climate change is here and experts say at stake is not just the loss of property but people. 

Urban planner Jason King called it a "very clear public safety issue," adding that some communities in the decades to come, "face an existential threat, a threat to its very existence." Yet he added climate change still isn't "on the agenda for most municipalities." That is an issue when it comes to starting the process of elected leaders on a local, county, state and regional level prioritizing budgets to find funding for investment in adaptation solutions needed to protect the community in the future.

What is more, King said due to our unique geology many of the current flood mitigation protocols in place in other parts of the world may not work here. The result of South Florida's porous limestone foundation is that water literally comes up underneath us. "In terms of the water coming up from the sub-straight," said King, "we don't have a solution yet."

King was the project director for Seven50, a gathering of 7 counties to plan ahead 50 years. King said taking sea level rise, and the powerful storm surges they could produce, into consideration was a major factor in their planning process. 

We are already living with sea level rise. 

READ MORE: Could finding a solution generate jobs?

The impact is being felt from the coast to flooding further inland.

Those studying what's to come, like FIU's GIS Coordinator Peter Harlem, can show you what could happen if nothing is done. In his office, tucked away on the second floor of FIU's Library, Harlem can pull up detailed maps of South Florida charting what areas will be hardest hit over the coming decades due to our rising seas. 

King said the seas are expected to rise two to four feet in 50 years. Harlem said if South Florida was faced with a six-foot increase, Miami International Airport would be mostly underwater. "We may not like it, we may want to hear it, we may not want to believe it, but the natural systems are all responding and the only system that isn't responding is sort of the human one."

Caroline Lewis of the CLEO Institute is responding. She has been working around-the-clock to host seminars for elected officials and connect people to the science. She understands that keeping people safe and protecting South Florida's pricey assets in the future will need to start now. Taking action on the recommendations laid out in many of the plans drafted by regional commissions will need some serious financing.

"The cost of not doing something is greater than the cost of doing it right," she told Local 10's Christina Vazquez from her quaint Pinecrest Gardens office. "If we were to truly incentivize innovation around solution-orientedness we really could unleash this whole new paradigm of inventions and create jobs and hubs and activities, because the whole world is heading this way, it's not just America or Miami, it is all of us. At lot of people in government who get this do see climate change as a job growth opportunity."