Florida's weather will get hotter, the sea will keep rising and more severe storms will batter its shores, scientists and South Florida leaders warned Tuesday.
Saltwater will keep moving inland, ruining freshwater supplies along the coast. And flooding of streets, businesses and houses will become even more commonplace, potentially damaging billions of dollars worth of property.
That's the inevitable result of global warming, witnesses told a U.S. Senate panel at a field hearing in Miami Beach. The hearing marked Earth Day by showing how Florida, the state most vulnerable to rising seas, is countering a potential economic and environmental disaster.
Plans along the coast include moving water facilities to higher ground, installing storm drains and digging canals closer to shore to drain surface water.
"Local governments are already in the trenches, moving forward," Broward County Commissioner Kristin Jacobs told the Senate Subcommittee on Science and Space.
The hearing at Miami Beach City Hall also inspired a People's Climate Rally outside. Another rally is set for 5 to 8 p.m. Friday at the Banyan Bowl in Pinecrest — the culmination of a cross-country Climate Road Trip designed to call attention to global warming.
"I think it does get the message out," said Drew Martin, conservation chairman of the Sierra Club Loxahatchee Group of Palm Beach County.
He urged Floridians to conserve energy and reduce their use of fossil fuels, which scientists believe creates "greenhouse gases" that trap heat near the Earth's surface, melting ice caps and raising sea levels.
"Air conditioning uses a tremendous amount of energy in Florida, so one thing people could do is adjust their air conditioning so it's not so cold," Martin said. "Another is to ride bicycles or take public transportation when possible, and drive less."
But the hearing focused less on root causes and more on Florida's eroding coastline and what can be done about it.
Subcommittee Chairman Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said the sea around Florida has risen 5 to 8 inches over the last 50 years and could rise another 3 feet by 2100.
Jacobs, a member of a White House task force on climate preparedness, cited a store owner on Las Olas Boulevard who decided not to expand his business but to move inland instead after recent flooding.
But some low-lying inland areas may not provide an escape, Fred Bloetscher, an engineering expert at Florida Atlantic University, told the panel. "A lot of areas west of I-95 are going see a lot more flooding," he predicted.
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