Our current emissions goals won’t save Florida from climate change, new study says

According to a new study out of Oregon State University, at several points in the past 3 million years, global temperature increases of only 1 or 2 degrees Celsius have corresponded with about 6 meters (20 feet) of sea level rise. 20 feet of sea level rise would cause harm all across the country, but especially in the southern end of Florida.

Florida Sea Level Rise after

Florida after 6 meters (20 feet) of sea level rise. Courtesy of Phillip’s Natural World

To the right is what will remain of the Sunshine State if sea level rises 20 feet. The Florida Keys, Miami, the Everglades, and everything in between will vanish beneath the Atlantic Ocean. St. Petersburg and Tampa would be dramatically cut back from their current coastlines. The more than seven million people living in the enveloped areas would be forced to uproot and move inland, which would put pressure on the Orlando area (an area already struggling with overpopulation from decades of being an international tourist destination). Lake Okeechobee, an important resource for Floridians and a large habitat for diverse and plentiful wildlife, will become more like an Okeechobee Bay, its waters made far too salty to sustain its current inhabitants.

What makes the news from the OSU study so alarming is that globally, the most ambitious international emissions goals have generally been set in order to keep warming at no more than 2 degrees Celsius. Even the coming “Paris 2015” conference on climate change, scheduled to take place this November, accepts keeping warming to a 1-2 degree Celsius window as a successful plan of action to combat climate change. In the context of the new report, even humanity’s best may not be good enough to save South Florida from becoming the next Atlantis.

To make matters worse, many of those who will be attending the Paris conference in November have expressed doubt that the 2-degree limit will even be accepted and agreed upon at the talks. They are less confident still that such a limit would have a binding mechanism of enforcement to keep signatory parties true to their word.

Residents of South Florida are urged to contact their legislators and press for an overhaul of our national emissions reduction goals.

If you are worried about your neighborhood’s vulnerability to sea level rise, click here to calculate your elevation on FreeMapTools.com.

If you have a subscription to the Journal Science, you may access the full OSU report here (if you don’t, you can still read the abstract and summary there).