By age 13, Miami Native Delaney Reynolds had published her third in a series of children’s book about Floridian ecology. But what started as a project to enlighten young people about the beauty of Miami's coastal environment turned into a somber realization about that environment's expiration date. Reynolds’ research led her to learn about “sea level rise,” the harrowing reality that while the levels of our seas have been stable for thousands of years, they've risen about 10 inches in the past century alone.
That may not seem like much, but this is already causing increased flooding and altered shorelines along coastal cities like Miami, Boston, and New York. And if things continue at this rate, sea levels could rise as much as 10 feet by the end of the century. The city of Miami could be underwater by 2100, and up to 2.5 million Miami residents could become climate refugees.
Miami residents are already feeling the effects. For example, in 2015 Reynolds visited the Miami Ad School, which had moved from Miami Beach to the community of Wynwood in an attempt to escape increasingly frequent flooding. Yet despite the move, flooding continued to prevent students from entering the building. One staff member told Reynolds that she keeps a pair of rain boots in her office so she can reach her car on severe flood days, and also encourages students to bring rain boots with them to ensure access to the school.
Reynolds has relentlessly pushed for her community to address flooding, and Miami-Dade County implemented a budget for sea level rise for the first time in 2015 thanks in no small part to her efforts: After learning that just one sentence of the County’s 1,000 page, three-volume budget mentioned climate change, Reynolds spoke to the commission and mayor to press for more funding. That year, $300,000 was budgeted to address the effects of climate change, and a Chief Resilience Officer, who will advise the city’s efforts in that regard, was also appointed to Miami-Dade County local government.
The budget has since increased to $1.7 million, according to Reynolds, who will also represent the youth perspective on the issue on Miami-Dade County’s Rockefeller Foundation 100 Resilient Cities Steering Committee. The city of Miami Beach also recently allocated $500 million to raise roads and install pumping systems to address flooding that has resulted from sea rise.
As admirable as Reynolds’ fight for change is, the hard truth is that even these measures — increased local budgets and local political action — are only temporary fixes. The effects of sea level rise are all but inevitable: According to one 2013 study, much of Miami will be “locked in” to a future underwater by 2041 — changing this course would be impossible by this time. Water levels have only continued to rise since the study was published.
“The ice is melting quicker and quicker. It will continue. It’s now unstoppable,” John Englander, President of the International Sea Level Institute, told MTV News. While “we should try and slow the warming to slow the rate of melting and the rate of sea level rising,” he added, we ultimately need to adapt to the inevitable reality of sea level rise.
Such adaptation will have to extend to residents of communities beyond Miami. Warmer oceans cause heavier rainfall across the world, Englander explained, and we’re already seeing record rainfalls throughout the country — a source of flooding that can affect even inland communities. Increased temperatures, as well as this rainfall, in turn affect agricultural production and alter normal ecological phenomena.
For example, warmer weather led bark beetles to proliferate and, in turn, decimate 46 million of the United States’ 850 million acres of forest in 2015, Mother Jones reported that year. Our fresh water supply and wastewater treatment systems could also be drastically affected by sea level rise.
Politicians are hesitant to acknowledge this reality for reasons both economic and ideological. “This is a revolutionary change,” Englander explained. “It’s going to be expensive and it’s very disruptive to accept that the sea will be five feet higher one day … We’re struggling with how to adapt because we don’t want to give the land back to the sea, but it’s inevitable.”
Political division over and denial about the issue doesn’t exactly encourage progress. Miami’s own Governor Rick Scott instituted an unwritten policy banning the terms “climate change,” “global warming,” and “sustainability” from any official communications, emails, or reports from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting revealed in 2015. A number of President Trump’s appointees have substantial records of climate change denial, and the President himself recently withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement, an agreement for environmental action signed by 195 nations.
But ultimately, as Englander put it, “the ocean doesn’t care who is in the White House.” And neither should young people concerned about climate change be deterred by who presently occupies it.
And if Reynolds' experience is any indication, young people are hardly letting politics — or their inability to vote — impede their passion for change. One of Reynolds’ greatest sources of optimism in her work is seeing “how engaged and how passionate” the many children she has met and spoken to about this issue are. “The truth is,” she concluded, “the facts don’t lie, the science doesn’t lie, and I have confidence we absolutely will be able to solve this problem.”
As part of MTV’s An Inconvenient Special, Vice President Gore will be joined by Delaney Reynolds, Fat Joe, and Steve Aoki to discuss the challenges of climate change. Tune in on August 2 at 7:30 p.m., #SaveMiami by supporting Delaney’s project, Sink or Swim, and visit climate.mtv.com for more ways to take action.