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As Seas Rise Over South Florida: When’s the Last Time I’ll Go Home for Christmas?

| December 23, 2017

Above the Florida Keys after Hurricane Irma. (Arkansas National Guard)

Above the Florida Keys after Hurricane Irma. (Arkansas National Guard)

By Victorian Borneman

The time has come again for making spirits bright. Whether we’re singing Merry Christmas or Feliz Navidad, the familiar cheer confirms the holiday season has arrived.

Yet amid the illumination and ornamented evergreens, an unsettling anticipation looms. It is the knowledge that some homes will one day be gone — that some neighborhoods may be doomed.

Okay, that’s not very merry and bright.

But given the climate disasters unfolding across the country, along with chilling warnings from U.S. climate agencies, I have to ask: How many more years will I be able to say I’m going home for Christmas?

Already I won’t be able to visit my sister in Houston this year, where Hurricane Harvey left roads rotted and homes destroyed. And if the overwhelming scientific consensus is correct, my mother, grandparents, and cousins — dispersed throughout South Florida — may soon face a similar fate as sea levels rise.

As I mark my calendar for this year’s visit, I fear it will be one of my last. And millions of families across the nation are going through the same uncertainty.

Even if we set aside the not too unlikely possibility of devastating storms, anticipated sea level rise alone could destroy hundreds of thousands of homes, leaving millions of people displaced or worse.

other-wordsThe United States Global Change Research Program warns that due to the warming of our planet, sea levels will rise between 1 to 4 feet in the next 84 years. Presently, 150 million people worldwide live within 3.5 feet of the current sea level — and more than 6 million Americans live less than 5 feet above.

And to make bad news worse, our federal response is underfunded, overwhelmed, and adding fuel to the fire by pulling back preparations just as the calls for them to step up get louder.

The Trump administration’s positions are well known. In less than a year the White House has pulled out of the Paris climate agreement, appointed a climate denier as head of the EPA, and failed to improve upon what legislation we do have that should support Americans during these ruinous times.

Our National Federal Flood Program under FEMA is an example of this inadequacy. Its budget remains based on statistical projections of disasters that don’t take current climate change predictions into account. As a result, it’s billions of dollars and years behind.

Regular people in New York and New Jersey are still waiting for relief from Hurricane Sandy. One shudders to think what awaits those affected by Harvey or Irma.

So what will happen if we don’t adapt?

For my family in South Florida, it means about 13 more Christmases before they have no choice but to move. By 2030, sea level rise will have more than doubled the risk of a storm surge within four feet of high tide lines, where 2.4 million people reside — including my relatives.

They won’t be laughing all the way in Hurricane-struck Puerto Rico this holiday season, where power outages in hospitals have left citizens dying of preventable illnesses. Nor in California, where millions of acres of land and counting have disintegrated into ash months before the usual summer wildfire season.

Still, the impact is highest on low-income families of color, like mine. Vulnerable families can’t afford flood insurance for their home or easy relocation.

The best Christmas present I could hope for this year is a real plan for climate solutions from our cities and states. For there can be no Christmas feast if the electricity is out, and no family at all if they’ve floated away.

Victoria Borneman is the Saul Landau Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. 

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31 Responses for “As Seas Rise Over South Florida: When’s the Last Time I’ll Go Home for Christmas?”

  1. mark101 says:

    Mid-range projections by NOAA scientists — not the worst-case scenario — put the seas around Florida up to 17 inches higher by 2030, with the highest rise at Mayport, Fernandina Beach and Daytona Beach.

  2. Ken Dodge says:

    Dave Barry’s (Miami Herald) hurricane plan:
    STEP 1. Buy enough food and bottled water to last your family for at least three days.
    STEP 2. Put these supplies into your car.
    STEP 3. Drive to Nebraska and remain there until Halloween.

    Read more here:

  3. Anonymous says:

    Bull….! If all of the worlds floating ice bergs melted how much would the sea levels rise? Answer, None! Explanation/Physics/Example, take your glass of beverage with all the ice cubes in it and the glass is full up to the brim. Allow those ice cubes to melt and observe the liquid in the glass will remain at the same level as before the ice melted because the volume of water displaced by the ice whether it is in a solid form of ice or the liquid form as water has already displaced the volume of water all that it can. Ice bergs in the ocean are under the same laws of physics. The Ice berg has already displaced as much sea water as is possible whether it is solid or melts to a liquid.
    Sea levels will only rise if the ice covering land masses melted all at one time, which is highly un likely since the world tilts on its axis every year to make it winter at one pole or the other every six months. Not going to melt all at one time as the scientist figures have been tilted to try and show. All ice on the planet would have to be melted off of every ice covered land mass to see the oceans rise 4-5 feet, {according to their tilted figures}. Both ends of the planet will never melt at the same time as long as their is winter going at one pole. Winter is inevitable as long as this planet tilts on it’s axis. Ever been to to the North or South pole during winter?

  4. Veteran says:

    The author should do some research on how long it takes for these events to happen. For example, according to Carl Sagan, astronomy professor at Cornell and author of Cosmos, if the Big Bang happened on January 1st, our solar system was formed in September and human beings appeared at 11:57 PM on December 31st. Sorry Victoria, sea levels can’t rise that much in 13 years.

  5. JohnX says:

    Please stop alarming people unless you have facts about seas rising as a result of climate change. yes, it rises, but slowly. seas have been rising 3mm a year for thousands of years. coasts have sheared off slowly for thousands and thousands of years and will continue until the next ice age. seas will rise 3 to 8 inches by 2050. The biggest problems causing flooding are development along coastal areas displacing drainage. Please address this and not some amorphous climate change boondoggle that no one has been able to quantify or understand yet.

  6. a tiny manatee says:

    The old white man sits on his mobility scooter like a king upon a throne, adorned with American flags, Trump stickers, and Hillary for prison stickers. He shakes his fist and shouts “climate change is a conspiracy created by liberals and the Chinese!”

    Confined by his mind and the waters around him, he mumbles “fake news” and reads a brietbart article on Hillary’s emails from the safety of his beachside home.

    As he sits in front of the television watching FOX news, the waters continue to rise. His inevitable demise only becomes apparent to him once the television shorts out, and by then it is too late. The waters engulf him, leaving behind a red “Make America Great Again” hat that is floating upside down, its white “made in China” sticker occasionally glittering as it catches hints of sunlight.

    Like a fart in a tub, a large bubble breaks the surface, carrying the last words of this old white man – #MAGA.


  7. Shell says:

    The sky is falling! The sky is falling!


  8. Traveling Rep says:

    Didn’t Al Gore make some similar predictions? The author here sounds almost as believable.

  9. Chris A Pickett says:

    The author of this junk has no understanding of Physics, Earth Science, Geology, Oceanography, among other things. If this piece of land was closer to that piece of land there would be no need for a bridge. But “if” is not SCIENCE.

  10. mark101 says:

    @Traveling Rep, was that before Gore while in the United States Congress, noted he took the initiative in creating the Internet ?

  11. OEF/OIF Vet says:

    Again, Hollywood celebrities and the ultra-rich; led by their goon commander Barack H. Obama, are buying up multi-million dollar estates and properties on beach fronts all over the world. Obama, in the past 3 years, has purchased beach front properties in both Hawaii and Martha’s Vineyard. If you are gullible enough to believe in climate change; then you need help. These jack-a’s spend their days crying wolf and their nights partying it up in the so-called “danger areas.” Get a clue people.

  12. Jitters says:

    Then move inland goofy
    You won’t be around in that period
    So don’t worry about it.
    It happens then it happens
    Oh well.

  13. Traveling Rep says:

    @ Mark101 – Not sure, but him saying such things over the years has resulted in a lack of credibility on the order of Hillary Clinton – if you really want to know “What Happened” :)

  14. Trailer Bob says:

    “Victoria Borneman is the Saul Landau Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies”

    “Still, the impact is highest on low-income families of color, like mine”
    Doesn’t sound like you could be that broke with your education and current position.
    Listen, the planet may not be around for ever, so enjoy it while we’ve got it. Honestly, I am not going to spend my life worrying about what happens when I am dead. The positive though, is that perhaps my land inland will be a god investment.
    I say this tongue and cheek, but rally, We are only one of many planets with life on them, and there was never a promise that our planet would last forever. Life is short…live, give, and love while you can.

  15. Just Sayin says:

    Think I heard this story before, ABC news predicted Manhattan would be underwater by 2015. It does seem like most of New York City is down here though. Next they will be predicting the Florida peninsula will fall in the water because of to many people at the tip.

  16. Mark says:

    yadda, yadda, yadda, humma, humma.

  17. Scribe says:

    @ a tiny manatee, I’m home cracking up! Please tell me your a writer? That was one of the funniest, most vivid descriptions of the way some of our fellow neighbors and citizens portray themselves, no exaggeration there!

  18. Sherry says:

    For all you “Brain Trust Conspiracy Theorists” / “Climate Change Deniers”. . . please read this FACTUAL scientific information from NASA, and this report from the Department of Defense:

  19. Anonymous says:

    The seas may be rising in south Florida (Keys) to wash all the sin away…..and then moving on up…..better clean up your acts.

  20. mark101 says:

    Its the time of year where I don’t let news bother me as much. So to all of my democrat and republican friends out there, To you, good health and Have a Happy Holiday.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Hurry everyone, pack up and move north–the hurricane flooding is just a taste of what may come. Move quickly.

  22. Nunía says:

    I have to agree with anonymous. Common sense is common sense and physics speaks volumes in this case–pun intended. Seriously folks, go get yourselves a big glass of ice water and watch it melt…I will wait. Although, i would be inclined to join in on concerning/convincing
    Folks that they should hurry and move back up north before we all drown if it meant getting my state back! I would love to be able to afford that overpriced ocean front property.

  23. Sherry says:

    Get educated, the seas are rising not because of icebergs melting. . . that stupid argument means absolutely nothing!

    Glaciers in the mountains all over the world and the polar ice caps are melting, due to global warming and causing disasters due to rising water:

  24. An actual scientist says:

    Sea level rises mostly due to thermal expansion.

  25. YankeeExPat says:

    Egad! A new juxtaposition, …….the Reb’s will be moving into higher ground… Yankee territory
    Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard will be rolling in his grave.

  26. Paul says:

    All you have to do is keep watching Fox and reading Facebook posts by the Russians and you’ll only have to worry about Democrats, non-white people, and the LGBT terrorists. Flagler County used to be a nice place to live before greed and ignorance became the prevailing characteristics of its residents. Try actually thinking for yourselves and don’t trust everything that you hear on Fox and hate radio.

  27. hawkeye says:

    dont forget …Al Gore created levis before he invented the internet.On a serious note ,if you have ever seen Al Gore and his entourage’s aircraft take off, you would see what a hypocrite he is.He creates more pollution than the whole state of Florida.

  28. Sherry says:

    There are many completely stupid reasons for ignoring what is quite obvious to 96% of scientists world wide, and the vast majority of “educated”, “thinking” people. From the perspective that two “wrong” still do not make a “right”, let me list some of the idiots overused talking points and conspiracy theories to save some of you the trouble:

    1. Al Gore’s predictions have not yet happened. . . maybe not YET completely, but we are certainly seeing some worrying effects of Climate Change:

    2. China pollutes more than we do. . . the USA is the second worst polluter. . . and, so the USA should no longer be a leader in doing the right thing?

    3. It won’t happen until we are dead. . . therefore, we have zero responsibility to preserve Earth for future generations. . . really?

    4. FOX says. . . that speaks for itself

    5. Obama is buying water front property. . . so, although EVERYTHING President Obama has ever done is wrong, this particular “theory” is correct because it fits with the “Denier’s” narrative

    6. The Sky is Falling. . . FOX speak for the brainwashed who now live in fear and hate. . . what? you have nothing factual or original to say?

    Have a fabulous day, everyone, and Happy New Year! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! for SANITY!

  29. Pogo says:

    @Smug Republican diaper models and other Republican legends in their own eyes

    Stay tuned to Fox and Fools, eat the nuts and flakes sold by Drudge – you can’t help it. But here’s what a commie rag run by an actual billionaire, Bloomberg, says:

    South Florida’s Real Estate Reckoning Could Be Closer Than You Think

    Hurricane Irma showed just how vulnerable South Florida—and some of the nation’s most expensive real estate—is to climate change.

    By Christopher Flavelle
    December 29, 2017, 4:00 AM EST

    “…Ross Hancock sold his four-bedroom house in Coral Gables, a city of pastel luxury at the edge of Miami, because he was worried that sea-level rise would eventually hurt his property’s value. He and his wife, Darlene, downsized to a small condo on Biscayne Bay, perched atop one of the highest coral ridges in the area. There, he presumed, they would be safer.

    Then Hurricane Irma hit.

    The September storm pushed water onshore with such force that it penetrated the seams of Hancock’s building, defeating stormproof windows and damaging a third of the units. It knocked out the elevators, ruined the generator, and flooded the parking lot. Months later the park next door remains strewn with mangled yachts hurled from from the ocean…”

  30. JohnX says:

    New York Times has an article that demonstrates the unknowns on sea level rise. So I am going to say the ansser to the question posed in this article is theday of death of the author.

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