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Opinion: Sea Level Rise Is A Crisis

EDITORS NOTE. The following is adapted from an oral statement made to the Key Biscayne Village Council during public comment on July 28, 2020. If you’d like to support the Key Biscayne Independent, join our mailing list click here


Good evening members of the Village Council….

Consider this statement about sea level rise as an analysis piece or editorial about a topic that will be a focus of future coverage.

Our motto will be coming from one of America’s founding fathers, John Adams who famously said that “facts are stubborn things.”

So Let’s talk about the facts – even as a tropical storm is about to threaten us…

Sea level rise is a fact and indeed it is proving to be a stubborn thing. As a journalist, I have covered this environmental phenomenon for decades. I have interviewed leading scientists and engineers all over the country. The data is overwhelming.

You may know there is a federal government tide gauge sensor on Virginia Key. Last year, there were 160 hours of flood level conditions, shattering previous records, according to meteorologist Brian McNoldy at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School.

Sea level rise is not a crisis that’s going to happen – it’s a crisis that is already happening.

To put it simply: time’s up.

Several studies have shown sea level rise is already lowering property values in Key Biscayne just as it is all over South Florida. Then there are the widely reported effects on insurance and other markets.

Tonight, this council will be taking a monumental first step. Will it be a giant leap like Neil Armstrong took 50 years ago on the moon, or will it be a step backwards into ignorance and fear?

Critics have falsely labeled this a “blank check,” even though they know the only thing on the agenda is putting the borrowing capacity question on the November ballot for voters to decide.

But I submit that a failure to act is the true “blank check.” The true “blank check” is the unknown but almost certainly more expensive cost of postponing, delaying or worst of all doing nothing. Moreover, this true blank check is one that you are sticking to future generations, like someone who skips out of a restaurant tab.

You know what? I don’t think that is very “Key Biscayne nice.”

Now, to be clear, nature doesn’t care whether we are a resilient community or not. Just as the coronavirus doesn’t care whether we wear masks or not. The coronavirus simply wants to jump into every throat it can. And rising seas want to overrun every piece of land it can.

Key Biscayne didn’t create greenhouse gasses by itself. And it can’t reverse sea level rise by itself. But it is in a unique position among American coastal cities to light the way. Which other cities have nationally known scientific institutions just a couple of miles away?

Look at our village seal. It features the lighthouse, our icon.

What is the function of a lighthouse? It’s to prevent shipwrecks. And metaphorically, its function can be the same today: to prevent a shipwreck of our community and our way of life. It is calling us to steer away from danger, to a place of safety.

The choice before you tonight is fundamentally about trust. Put simply, do you trust the voters of this community to make the right decision about sea level rise?

Do you trust the voters of this community to listen to the science?

Do you trust the voters of this community to attend dozens of future meetings about the details of the projects and be involved in debating the finances?

Do you trust them to hold you accountable?

I do. You know why? Because with a bit of luck, they’ll be reading the Key Biscayne Independent and they’ll get the facts.

Good night. And see you on the radio (Our podcast, Anti-Social)

TONY WINTON is the Editor-in-Chief of the Key Biscayne Independent.


Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.

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