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Projections point to more than three feet of sea-level rise by 2100, posing deep challenges for one of the U.S.’s most iconic tourist sites – the Florida Keys, where in many places residences, highways, and infrastructure are at less than three feet.

Moreover, those 2100 projections “almost give you a false sense of complacency,” cautions scientist and 2019 MacArthur “genius” fellowship winner Andrea Dutton. She says in this month’s Yale Climate Connections “This Is Not Cool” video that extreme storms affecting the Keys will occur “with increasing frequency as you approach 2100,” and well before that three-foot average rise takes hold.

‘I can see what’s coming, and it’s miserable.’

Dutton expresses concerns that the public may not be “in the right mindset” concerning time projections for rising sea levels. “You can’t just pick up cities and move them,” she says. “There’s going to be some amount of adaptation, there’s going to be some amount of retreat” leading up to the period when that overall three-foot average is, as they say, “the new normal.”

Dutton, for eight years with the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Florida, now continues her research with the University of Wisconsin’s Geoscience Department. “Snow is fun,” she said in a fall 2019 U.W. announcement of her move from sunny Gainesville to often frosty Madison. Explaining to those curious about her move from the Atlantic coast to the Midwest, she said “I look at these sea-level projections all the time. I can see what’s coming, and it’s miserable.”

Dutton is far from alone in expressing concerns about the impacts of sea-level rise for the Florida Keys. For instance, another scientist, Maya Becker, now with Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla California, recalls growing up on Key Biscayne barrier island, just south of Miami Beach. She says she worries that parts could be “completely submerged” in the next 50 or so years.

A local CBS affiliate TV station has reported that “some roads there will be surrendered to the sea,” and that it may not be economically feasible to save some homes in Monroe County. A county administrator weighs the pros and cons of publicly buying-out some private residences doomed by rising seas, or letting landowners know “that we’re just not going to provide services.” Local planners also are reportedly discussing perhaps having to substitute boats for roads in some areas. They are considering issues like increased taxes (resiliency taxes) and seeking legal counsel advice on whether counties are required by law to try to raise roadways to protect specific neighborhoods, and legally authorized “to let a neighborhood go under water.” The video features a local county executive worried that saving some of the 300 miles of vulnerable roads in the Keys will cost “a billion, possibly even billions, of dollars.”

Peter Sinclair

Peter Sinclair is a Michigan-based videographer, specializing in climate change and renewable energy issues. He has created hundreds of educational videos correcting climate science misinformation,...