The Shameful Price of Saving Paradise

Kew West Big Pine Key Marathon

As America ended last week by considering how to celebrate the 4th of July amidst the continued COVID-19 crisis, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released its initial plan to address one aspect of another crisis: rising sea levels from climate change that threatens Monroe County, home of what’s been called the American Caribbean, our precious and fragile Florida Keys. The Keys are at the very real risk of disappearing over the next few decades due to sea level rise principally caused by the world’s use of fossil fuels. The damage has already begun and local leaders are desperately looking for options to save the region.

You can read more about the it here but the Army Corp’s initial $5.5 billion plan includes:

  1. Raising and strengthening six areas of highway U.S. 1, the only road from the mainland to Key West.
  2. Raising the elevation of 7,300 existing homes.
  3. Flood-proofing 3,800 buildings.
  4. Using eminent domain laws to have the government take (purchase) and then destroy 300 homes.
  5. Retreating from certain areas where maintaining roads and other infrastructure is deemed too costly and thus allowing climate change induced sea rise to claim those properties.

The plan is both costly (initial estimates being $ 5.5 billion) and controversial. Local leaders have already expressed an unwillingness to invoke eminent domain laws to take people’s homes (the government would buy them for fair market value) and has asked for a waiver from this requirement to make it voluntary. Government officials and property owners alike are faced with what will surely be gut wrenching decisions over renovating or selling and destroying one’s home or business and being forced to abandon past memories, much less future dreams in the process. It’s all just tragic and it’s happening because of our society’s use of fossil fuels over the past 120 or so years.

And the worst part of all of this is that the insane costs like these initial estimates for Monroe County, costs that will borne all over our society, much less people’s pain, can largely be avoided if we become serious about quickly transitioning away from fossil fuel use by embracing sustainable energy everywhere. Not 50 or 100 years from now but today. This year. This decade. Now!

If we can, as a nation, decide to place men on the moon as happened in less than a decade in the 1960’s, then we can surely take the world by the hand by transitioning to sustainable energy today just like we did into outer space. If we truly want to avoid those costs and that pain, it is absolutely possible to avoid the worst of the sea level rise if only we were to be serious about solving this crisis. If only.

Those that fight that transition, the businesses that cause or protect fossil fuel consumption, or capitulate until it’s too late to save places we love and need will have that “blood” on their hands for not having had the foresight to foster and demand the necessary changes today. No, not mitigation measures such as raising roads and buildings, or destroying property the sea renders useless, but actually eliminating the core issue that’s causing the problem: fossil fuel use.

Allowing those that produce fossil fuel products (cars and gasoline) or use them as utilities (gas and coal) or protect them (fossil fuel oriented business leaders, lobbyists and politicians) to drag their feet and fight the required transition will only escalate the cost our society will bear and the pain and suffering people will be subjected to and that’s a solid shame.