Broward News

WPB Sea Level Rise Symposium Keynoter: "There Will Be Catastrophe"

Marine scientist John Englander comes across as calm, cool, collected, and concerned. In print and in interviews, he explains, in uncomplicated, matter-of-fact language, what the future holds for coastal dwellers like us if nothing is done to address climate change. In a word, disaster.

See also: Keys Hospitals Submerged by Climate Change, Legislators Told

Speaking this morning at the Arthur R. Marshall Foundation's Sea Level Rise Symposium in West Palm Beach, Englander will draw on his years of experience and research to set the tone for a series of panels and breakout sessions to assess the long-range impact of greenhouse gases on South Florida and what can be done about it.

Englander's a cautious Cassandra, a just-the-facts kind of guy: Global warming is speeding up, CO2 and other greenhouse gases are the cause, sea level rise is a result:

If temperatures later this century continue to climb, causing all the ice sheets to eventually melt, there will be catastrophe -- even if it takes many centuries for that to fully happen. The last time that CO2 levels were in the range near 1,000 ppm was about 55 million years ago. At that time there were no polar ice sheets and sea level was approximately 250 feet (75 m) higher than today.

While sea level and climate have changed in the past, it was LONG before our human civilization. Normally climate changes happen over hundreds of thousands of years or longer. Even abrupt natural changes take thousands of years. Once the ice melts and sea level rises, there is no known way to reverse the process quickly. That presents a huge problem, nothing short of a catastrophe, for our civilization over the next few centuries. The problems could start sooner than we think.

Yet Englander refuses to demonize. On oil companies, for example: "They are providing a valuable service that we depend on." Neither is he without hope: "If we have the courage to look at our future, we can make it a livable one."

Yet his bottom line remains: A thousand years of rising sea levels is baked in the cake. Englander calls it "the single most profound geologic change in recorded human history."

Those appearing at the symposium today include representatives of South Florida business, science, and government, state Rep. Mark Pafford among them.

A point person on the issue, Pafford sees action already underway -- a $50 million upgrade in the works at the South Florida Water Management District, new public works facilities in Key West -- but sees roadblocks ahead. "Corporate profit and corporate greed have lead people to pooh-pooh the issue," he told New Times. "They're living in caves." He called sea level rise "Florida's most significant issue in the coming century."

As a sidelight, we find it kind of weird that the host for today's symposium, the Oxbridge Academy, is a project founded by Palm Beach billionaire Bill Koch, a climate change denialist.

Koch famously funded an effort to stop the construction of wind farms off Martha's Vineyard, where he has a home. Screw renewable energy if it blocks Mr. Moneybag's view. But if John Englander is right, Koch would have done better to buy another yacht.

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