White House expert warns sea level rise threatens real estate and tourism economy

A 2012 photo of the Brickell skyline taken from the Rickenbacker Causeway (Credit: Daniel Christensen)
A 2012 photo of the Brickell skyline taken from the Rickenbacker Causeway (Credit: Daniel Christensen)

A top climate change consultant for the Obama administration on Tuesday evening warned a small gathering of local elected officials and business owners that combating seal level rise is an inevitable reality for South Florida.

“We are going to be dealing with additional changes and impacts no matter what we do,” Robert Simon, an advisor to the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, told the intimate crowd. “The question is how much more do you want to see. Do you want to see those impacts on runway curve or constrained?”

Simon was the guest speaker for a business leader briefing held at Pipeline Workspaces in Brickell organized by Business Forward, a national trade association. Miami City Commissioner Ken Russell, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and City Commissioner Ricky Arriola, Key Biscayne Mayor Mayra Pena Lindsay, and Miami-Dade School Board member Raquel Regalado were among the invited guests. Developers Scott Robins, who chairs the Miami Beach Sea Rise Committee, and Diego Ojeda, whose company Rilea Group recently built downtown Miami’s first new “LEED Gold” certified office tower, were the only notable builders in attendance.

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Sea level rise is a multifaceted challenge,” Simon said. “Climate change is affecting South Florida in so many ways. The top 1 percent of downpours carry 20 percent more punch than they did in the 1950s. If you have drainage issues, it’s because the heaviest downpours are now dumping more water in your area than when your stormwater facilities were built.”

Climate change is a serious real threat to Miami’s tourism and real estate sectors, the White House advisor cautioned. In addition to property loss caused by tidal or rain flooding, South Florida is facing other dangers, including coastal erosion, oppressive heat and humidity, stronger hurricanes, and destruction of coral and sea life, Simon explained.

“You have to be ready to adapt to it,” he said. “There is a tremendous amount we can do to forestall dire situations.”


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