The Fort Lauderdale neighborhood I grew up in, and where my parents still live, is called Knoll Ridge. It’s not a name anyone ever really used – I’m not sure I even knew it until a “Welcome to Knoll Ridge” sign went up a few years ago at the end of my parents’ street. And so I never really thought about it. Turns out though, the word “Ridge” wasn’t just dropped in there by some 1950s developer to make the place sound vaguely familiar to Northerners.
My parents’ neighborhood sits 12 feet above sea level. By South Florida standards, that’s a proper above-the-treeline, find-a-Sherpa-to-guide-you-there elevation. My house, closer to downtown and away from the mighty knolls and ridges of northeast Fort Lauderdale, sits about seven-and-a-half feet above sea level. Not as good, but still better than most.
I’ve been thinking more about home elevations lately because, well, that’s what we do now. Then, when I’m done thinking, I drink bourbon. The Atlantic Ocean, tired of gazing at Fort Lauderdale from afar, is making plans to visit us. Sea level rise is coming.
Writer Jess Swanson looks at sea level rise and our plans for it (or lack thereof) in a story this month that’s equal parts fascinating and reach-for-the-bourbon depressing. One thing you won’t find in our magazine is any “debate” about whether or not climate change and sea level rise are real. That’s because this is a magazine for grownups who understand science. In South Florida, we don’t have time for climate change denial nonsense anymore. Somebody who believes fire doesn’t exist might have a fascinating argument, but you don’t really have time for it when your house is on fire.
Not that it will be as dramatic as fire. Which in a way, might be part of the problem when it comes to focusing minds on the fight ahead. A scary New Yorker story several years ago talked about the massive earthquake that’s probably due to hit the West Coast. According to the article, it could basically level Seattle west of Interstate 5. Say “natural disaster,” and that’s what comes to mind. Big. Cataclysmic. Final.
But according to experts we talked to, we’re in for more of a slow crisis, one that involves increased quality-of-life and financial trouble before it means the whole place is an aquarium.
It’ll be the banks that stop offering 30-year mortgages, and then 15. It’ll be the waterfront homes that no longer offer boat access to the ocean because the neighborhood bridge isn’t tall enough. It’ll be a whole lot of canaries in an entire series of mine shafts. In film terms, we’re on the lookout for The Day After Tomorrow but it’s Glengarry Glen Ross that’ll get us first.
So, have we already lost? Experts offer differing views and sometimes, something that borders on cautious optimism. Some change will have to happen; we’re beyond saving the status quo now. But thinkers and leaders like the “Salty Urbanism” crew at FAU or the people working with the South Florida Regional Climate Change Compact are working on ways to both fight and adapt. It would be super if they were getting more help from Tallahassee or Washington, but here we are.
So, we wait and see. I’ll be up on yonder ridge. Pass me my bourbon.