Warning: Global warming is a fact, and the results are already visible. Hurricanes are getting stronger; droughts and floods are more frequent. In South Florida, waters rose roughly six inches between 1930 and 1981. That might not sound like much, but it's just the tip of a rapidly melting iceberg. "We are the most vulnerable metropolitan area in the world when it comes to sea-level rise," University of Miami professor Harold Wanless says. And, the avuncular geologist adds, that's nothing.
"Another eight inches, and 65 percent of the county's water control structures will fail," he says. Salt water will seep across South Florida, destroying crops, corroding cars, and costing billions in damages. But eight inches is a drop in the bucket. Wanless expects South Florida seas to rise by at least four, probably six, feet by 2100. Still contemplating that beachfront condo so the grandchildren have a pad when your kids kick the bucket?
Consider: A two-foot rise would plunge 28 percent of Miami-Dade below water. Miami Beach would be reduced to Ocean Drive (shudder) as celebrities scramble to save their Star Island mansions. Same thing across the bay. Sayonara, city hall. Most worrisome of all, Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant would be an island in the newly created Sea of Homestead.
Although two new reactors at Turkey Point are being built at a higher elevation, Florida Power & Light has requested to keep the two current nukes running until 2035. Given that Hurricane Andrew almost inundated them in 1992, what will happen as oceans continue to rise?
"The standards will be 85 years old by then, and that's a problem," says Arnie Gundersen, a Vermont-based nuclear engineer and consultant. "If tidal waves knock out the water pumps" — as they did at the Fukushima reactor in Japan earlier this year — "you can have a meltdown."
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FPL spokesman Michael Waldron says Turkey Point is safe and that the reactors are intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but "no one knows for sure what the climate change impact on sea levels will be 100 years from now."
A six-foot rise in ocean waters would be less dramatic than a meltdown, but almost as damaging, Wanless warns. Less than half of Miami-Dade would remain, and of the land still above water, 73 percent would constantly flood. "That's uninhabitable," he says. Eight feet higher, and Miami-Dade is an archipelago. At ten, it's Atlantis. But that's not even Wanless's worst-case scenario. If China and India continue to pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and Tea Party activists block environmental action, the seas could rise by an astounding 20 feet by 2100.
"It's not unforeseeable at all," Wanless says. "It's happened before."
Yeah, 130,000 years ago.