Climate change sceptics deny Miami is at risk

Rising seas: Scientists predict Miami could one day be totally submerged by water © PA

Although global warming will make Southern Florida extremely vulnerable to rising sea levels, its politicians don’t take the threat seriously. Are their views putting the state at risk?

Known for its white beaches, the Art Deco buildings of its waterfront and palm tree-lined boulevards, the city of Miami in the US state of Florida attracts glamorous jetsetters, tourists and booming business from around the world. But behind its relaxed, sunny reputation, the city faces a climate change disaster. ‘Miami,’ declared one magazine, ‘is on its way to becoming an American Atlantis.’

Miami is one of the most vulnerable cities in the world to climate change, partly due to its unique geology. It is built on a foundation of porous limestone, which soaks up rising seawater like a sponge.

Its low topography is also part of the problem. There is little land in Miami that rises more than six feet above sea level, which will make it vulnerable to the rising waters caused by global warming. A report published this year showed that the sea level around southeast Florida could rise to two feet by 2060.

But a rise of just 30cm could result in chaos, causing major infrastructure damage and contaminating water supplies and the area’s sewage system. By the end of the century scientists say Miami will be underwater.

Despite these grave warnings – one reporter likened the situation this week to ‘a calamity worthy of the Old Testament’ – many in Miami are unconcerned, or unconvinced about the scale of the impending disaster. The population is steadily increasing; land prices continue to surge; and construction cranes clutter the skyline.

Most of Florida’s senior Republican politicians, in particular Senator Marco Rubio – a possible 2016 US presidential contender — and current governor Rick Scott, do not believe human activity is to blame for climate change. While they do not deny that it is happening, they say the threat is exaggerated.

But opponents accuse them of playing politics. The major policy solutions to climate change would require reducing emissions and regulating the coal and gas industries which are both deeply unpopular with Republican Party supporters.

Cool it

Some in Miami say blasé attitudes put people’s lives at risk. Considering the overwhelming scientific consensus on the risks and causes of climate change, it is irresponsible for those in positions of power not to take heed of the warnings. If local people are told by their leaders that global warming is not serious, they will not feel any need to confront the threat.

But others say we should always be open to alternative interpretations and viewpoints. Climate change sceptics think that rather than wasting time developing sustainable forms of energy, we should find technological solutions to living in a warmer world and must learn to adapt. We should not base policy decisions on fear.

You Decide

  1. Should climate change sceptics be allowed to express their views?
  2. Should we be more worried or less worried about the threat of climate change?

Activities

  1. In groups, come up with some ideas for how your school could reduce its carbon footprint. Design posters alerting people to your campaign.
  2. Write a three-minute opening speech either supporting or opposing the following motion: 'This House believes that we’ve left it too late to tackle global climate change.’

Some People Say...

“Global warming is a new religion.’Nigel Lawson”

What do you think?

Q & A

I don’t live in Miami, so how does this affect me?
Climate change isn’t just a problem for Miami. London, the Netherlands, New York, Bangladesh, New Orleans and the Maldives are all threatened by rising sea levels and extensive flooding, and other effects of climate change are being witnessed all over the globe. It’s important that we are all aware of the scale of the problem, but that also depends on what politicians, journalists and scientists tell us in the media.
What’s the situation in the UK about the climate change debate?
The BBC received a barrage of complaints earlier this year for allowing Nigel Lawson, the former chancellor and a prominent climate change sceptic, to air his views. The BBC apologised, but Lawson this week accused them of silencing the debate on climate change.

Word Watch

Atlantis
The story of this powerful island empire being swallowed up by the sea was originally described 2,500 years ago by the Greek philosopher Plato.
Porous
A rock or material which absorbs gas or liquids into its pores is known as porous.
Topography
The graphic representation of a territory’s surface features on a map, hills, rivers etc, indicating their relative positions and heights.
Report
According to the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact.
Marco Rubio
Rubio stated on US radio that he does not agree that actions humans are taking today could affect how the climate is changing.
Overwhelming scientific consensus
A Skeptical Science peer-reviewed survey found that over 97% of scientific papers about climate change agreed with the position that humans are causing global warming. Yet US public opinion differs, with just over half believing that humans are primarily responsible.

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