New Video: Breaking Bad News in Florida Keys

May 28, 2020

More here from my interview with Andrea Dutton in December, at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting.

Scientists keep telling me about the emotional challenges of breaking bad news about climate change. It’s a tightrope.
There’s hope we can steer away from the cliff as a planet, but changes already in the pipeline are going to be devastating to vulnerable areas.

Bud Ward in Yale Climate Connections:

Projections point to more than three feet of sea-level rise by 2100, posing deep challenges for one of the U.S.’s most iconic tourist sites – the Florida Keys, where in many places residences, highways, and infrastructure are at less than three feet.

Moreover, those 2100 projections “almost give you a false sense of complacency,” cautions scientist and 2019 MacArthur “genius” fellowship winner Andrea Dutton. She says in this month’s Yale Climate Connections “This Is Not Cool” video that extreme storms affecting the Keys will occur “with increasing frequency as you approach 2100,” and well before that three-foot average rise takes hold.

Dutton expresses concerns that the public may not be “in the right mindset” concerning time projections for rising sea levels. “You can’t just pick up cities and move them,” she says. “There’s going to be some amount of adaptation, there’s going to be some amount of retreat” leading up to the period when that overall three-foot average is, as they say, “the new normal.”

Dutton, for eight years with the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Florida, now continues her research with the University of Wisconsin’s Geoscience Department. “Snow is fun,” she said in a fall 2019 U.W. announcement of her move from sunny Gainesville to often frosty Madison. Explaining to those curious about her move from the Atlantic coast to the Midwest, she said “I look at these sea-level projections all the time. I can see what’s coming, and it’s miserable.”

Dutton is far from alone in expressing concerns about the impacts of sea-level rise for the Florida Keys. For instance, another scientist, Maya Becker, now with Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla California, recalls growing up on Key Biscayne barrier island, just south of Miami Beach. She says she worries that parts could be “completely submerged” in the next 50 or so years.

A local CBS affiliate TV station has reported that “some roads there will be surrendered to the sea,” and that it may not be economically feasible to save some homes in Monroe County. A county administrator weighs the pros and cons of publicly buying-out some private residences doomed by rising seas, or letting landowners know “that we’re just not going to provide services.” Local planners also are reportedly discussing perhaps having to substitute boats for roads in some areas. They are considering issues like increased taxes (resiliency taxes) and seeking legal counsel advice on whether counties are required by law to try to raise roadways to protect specific neighborhoods, and legally authorized “to let a neighborhood go under water.” The video features a local county executive worried that saving some of the 300 miles of vulnerable roads in the Keys will cost “a billion, possibly even billions, of dollars.”

10 Responses to “New Video: Breaking Bad News in Florida Keys”

  1. jimbills Says:

    I always look for qualifier words in this sort of thing – ‘may’, ‘might’, ‘could’, etc. Just take them out and leave ‘will’ or ‘is’.


  2. There is a profound cognitive dissonance for someone like myself living in Cornwall when we hear that tides of higher than 2 feet are expected in future.

    Down here, at Penzance/Newlyn for example, tidal range of 3 metres (10′) is considered a neap tide and spring (king) tides are in the 4.5 (14′) meter range

    • dumboldguy Says:

      What’s your point?

      If you live at 2 feet above sea level, and a normal tide is 18″, you’d be flooded every time a “tide” exceeded that by 7 inches. For these folks in the Keys, it is coming down to just that—-inches.


      • I’m not criticising, the dissonance is caused by the difference in range. For someone round here the idea of building anything on land only 2 or 3 feet above MSL is ridiculous, For someone in Florida it is considered acceptable.

        Australia has similar problems. There’s a UTube channel called Dangar Marine where he highlighted the problems he had getting a boat close enough to the boat yard to be lifted from the water. He needed a spring tide which was only about 30cm above a normal tide.

        In Cornwall the idea of tidal generation is considered very possible, if dubious due to the cost of loss of wetlands and foreshore. We overestimate how practical such systems would be forgetting that for much of the world such as Florida or Sydney they are a non-starter

        • dumboldguy Says:

          I see. For anyone with half a brain, building anywhere in south Florida is beyond ridiculous, and it’s maddening and saddening to think of all the time, effort, and $$$ that’s going to be wasted trying to defeat the inevitable.

          The last paragraph in this piece tells it all—-the selfish and self-interested thinking that displays the cognitive dissonance that infects those living there. That cannot be overcome by the thinking of the scientists in the rest of the piece—-the only thing that will work is for the flooding to occur—-more often, more severe, more costly and difficult to remediate and repair.

  3. redskylite Says:

    From University of Cambridge.

    The ice shelves surrounding the Antarctic coastline retreated at speeds of up to 50 metres per day at the end of the last Ice Age, far more rapid than the satellite-derived retreat rates observed today, new research has found.

    “We now know that the ice is capable of retreating at speeds far higher than what we see today. Should climate change continue to weaken the ice shelves in the coming decades, we could see similar rates of retreat, with profound implications for global sea-level rise.”

    https://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/antarctic-ice-sheets-capable-of-retreating-up-to-50-metres-per-day

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Hey, redsky! In your recent recountng of looming disasters, you missed this one!

      ‘Zombie Fires’ Erupt in Alaska and Likely Siberia, Signaling Severe Arctic Fire Season May Lie Ahead

      “Zombie fires—blazes that continue to smolder even while covered by snow through the winter—are erupting this year in Alaska, and likely Siberia, where scientists say vast stores of organic matter are helping wildfires that started last summer stay alive. Those still-active blazes could compound on new ones, researchers warn, making for a particularly active fire season”.

      Fires in the arctic burning through the winter under the snow is a new one to me.

  4. Keith Omelvena Says:

    “There’s going to be some amount of adaptation, there’s going to be some amount of retreat” leading up to the period when that overall three-foot average is, as they say, “the new normal.” The new normal? Why would three feet be assumed to be the new normal? Is time expected to end during 2100?

    • greenman3610 Says:

      of course, you’re right.
      we have to dole out information in the tiny bits that journalists can absorb


  5. […] podcast worth listening to, regarding a realistic time frame, and some bad news you might want to check […]


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