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Forcing the Floods out of Florida

Water management in Florida has never been easy. The area, made vulnerable by its coastal position and flat geography, has been blighted historically by both droughts and floods that have torn through to wreak damage upon both buildings and people.

27th June 2014    |     Peter Rolton: Chairman, Rolton Group

In the 1940s the state became home to a complex network of water pumps to combat this problem, regulating flow, protecting the water supply, and minimising damage when the forecast is particularly inclement.

Over the past half a century, however, the situation has markedly changed. Extreme weather patterns and their adverse effects are now compounded by increasingly heavy rainfall and rising sea levels, widely accepted to be consequences of man-made climate change. Now we hear that the rabbit warren of pipes brought in to save the day fifty years ago has been called upon again, this time with a new role: turning the tides.

Where water was once gently pulled towards the sea by gravitational forces, it is now turning about-face and flowing inland due to a sea level that has crept up more than 8 inches over the last century, completely throwing the natural balance. This spells disaster for a system that once had the environment on its side but is now battling against a serious contraflow.

What to do then, when the current is no longer behaving as we would like? Particularly when, in all likelihood, this comes as a direct result of climate change? But of course! We hook up hugely powerful pumps to force the water back out to the coast, powered by yet more of the fossil fuels that got us into the situation in the first place. How’s that for holistic?

On a microcosmic level, of course Florida has to act to protect itself from encroaching tides; it’s a practical answer to an immediate problem. Is it not worth pointing out, however, that this is still akin to shooting holes in your boat whilst standing there bailing out the water? Pretending that the bigger issue doesn’t exist and offering short-term band aid solutions may be a more popular option, but that doesn’t make it the right one.

It’s been two years since I wrote about legislation passed in North Carolina that stated it would not recognise current evidence on rising sea level and would only acknowledge historical data (Canute Comes to North Carolina); another example of wilful ignorance and a belief worthy of King Canute that humans are somehow more powerful than nature. America, like the rest of the world, is slowly waking up to the potentially devastating effects of climate change. Sustainable technologies are starting to take hold and public perception is shifting. Until the very infrastructure upon which we base our lives makes some serious adjustments in the same direction, however, the world’s climate will remain on a startlingly negative trajectory.

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