Throughout Donald Trump’s campaign for President, he repeatedly promised to build a wall along our Southern border to stymie the flow of illegal immigration (and coax Mexico into paying for it). But as a businessman and a real estate developer, perhaps President-elect Trump should consider devoting his attention to a far more rational and productive project: protecting Florida’s fragile coastline from the threats of climate change and sea level rise.
Florida’s coasts are ground zero for flooding from rising seas. Sea level rise is a well-documented phenomenon, affecting the entire state of Florida from the Keys up through St. Augustine. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, seas will rise globally by approximately three feet in the next century and undoubtedly bring forth significant social and economic damage. Climate change has undeniably altered the lives of our neighbors. Before I took office, many of our local businesses frequently placed sandbags outside of their establishments to protect their property. Some still do. On a clear summer day, when the tide was extremely high (especially during King Tide episodes) city streets became flooded and impassable by car—this year, because of our efforts, no streets were impassible. In the hip neighborhood of Sunset Harbor, our bold sea-level rise initiatives have made a world of difference in the daily lives of business owners and customers, allowing this area to flourish. As an owner of his own slice of South Florida real estate, Trump might be able to appreciate the effect this will have on his own investments. Imagine if his favorite Palm Beach residence, Mar-a-Lago, is catastrophically ruined by a disaster that could have easily been mitigated with a bit of foresight.
Though helpful, local efforts are ultimately not enough here. The problem of rising sea levels requires federal attention. There is a multitude of ways that the federal government can invest in resiliency here in Florida: building sea walls at particularly prone sections of shoreline, installing water pumps in at-risk coastal towns and cities or investing money in research by engineers and outside experts to find innovative solutions.
However, the first step to solve any problem is to acknowledge its existence. Weeks ago, the Miami Herald published an editorial imploring Trump to change his position from “a climate change denier to [a] climate change realist,” warning that the implications of ignoring the clear and present danger of climate change are grave. I could not agree more. It was comforting to hear Trump’s recent answer at a press conference with the New York Times saying he has an “open mind” about not pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement. But we must go much further than that. By allocating a portion of his infrastructure plan to include building a more resilient Florida, Trump would be able to prevent the imminent dangers of sea level rise from destroying property along our coasts and, at the same time, provide jobs for thousands of Floridians.
In Miami Beach, we never debate climate change. Instead, we find solutions to combat the challenges we face related to sea level rise. By developing and implementing both short-and long-term adaptation strategies, from raising roads to installing storm-water pumps, we can now say our city is more resilient. Our determination to keep Miami Beach dry has captured headlines and is featured in two prominent climate change documentaries. In the documentary Before the Flood, Academy Award-winning filmmaker Fisher Stevens and Academy Award-winning actor and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio traveled to Miami Beach to showcase the dramatic efforts being made to solve the most pressing climate change issues. National Geographic's "Years of Living Dangerously" depicted how Miami Beach is committed to rise above and to protect future generations. When I ran for my first term as mayor in 2013, I took a kayak with my boxer dog Earl and paddled down a main street during sunny-day flooding, to highlight the severity of the problem. Flooding still affects our city, but in a short time we’ve made a tremendous amount of progress.
Regardless of the actions or inactions of the incoming Trump administration, I, along with mayors from across the country, will continue to lead on climate change. Earlier this year, Miami Beach signed on as one of 35 cities across the United States to the Mayors’ National Climate Action Agenda; cities such as New York City and Los Angeles, have committed to ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and regularly report on their progress. As part of our efforts, we recently sent an open letter to the President-elect urging him to use his power in office to expand and accelerate our local efforts combatting climate change.
As I have said many times, the ocean is not Republican or Democrat. While we bicker over the science and solutions, it will only continue to rise. If he is willing to look for it, the President-elect can find common ground here and step in as a leader on a major issue, for our state, our nation and our planet. Instead of building walls that divide our world, let’s build walls that can protect us against a real threat that affects all of us equally, working together to create a sustainable and successful future for all Floridians.