The Planet

The Senate Just Held A Hearing About Climate Change Right Outside The ‘Winter White House’

by Ben Jervey

April 11, 2017

Don’t expect Trump’s “Winter White House” to survive the century. That was one clear takeaway from a Monday Senate hearing, which featured climate scientists testifying just across the lagoon from the President’s Mar-a-Lago Club. 

Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, convened the field hearing, titled “Extreme Weather and Coastal Flooding: What is Happening Now, What is the Future Risk, and What Can We Do About It?” Through statements and testimony, the panelists—who included two climate scientists, the chief resilience officer for Broward County, and the U.S. head of “risk accumulation” for Munich Re, one of the world’s largest reinsurance companies, examined the impacts of sea level rise and extreme weather on coastal communities.

In Palm Beach, home of Trump’s beloved private club, tidal flooding is on the rise.

Held less than four miles from the Mar-a-Lago Club, it was clear whose attention the hearing was meant to grab, recalling a recent letter from 10 Florida climate scientists to then President-elect Trump, in which they described South Florida as “ground zero for climate change impacts.”

“Much of your Mar-a-Lago Club could be underwater in coming years because of man-made climate change,” they wrote. “Many of Florida’s waterfront properties (including yours) are vulnerable to even minor increases in sea level, because of erosion and storm surge. This is not a distant threat. Climate change is making an impact today.”

In Monday’s hearing, which featured two of the climate scientists who had written that letter, witnesses explained current conditions along the Florida coast and foretold of imminent and persistent future flooding; the hearing focused extensively on the vast economic threat posed by rising seas.

From Dr. Ben Kirtman's testimony on flooding and sea level rise.

Dr. Leonard Berry worked for decades researching climate science at nearby Florida Atlantic University, and now runs a science-based consulting firm that predicts future impacts for vulnerable communities. In his opening remarks, Berry said:

As a scientist and businessman, and as a resident, I want to emphasize that sea level rise is a critical issue in South Florida—not only in Miami, which gets most of the press—but for the whole region, including here in Palm Beach County.

The issue requires our scientific, legislative, and legal attention—and our current investment in the amount of several billions of dollars to be spent over the next few years alone.

In Palm Beach, home of Trump’s beloved private club, tidal flooding has increased steadily over the past decade. According to risk analysis commissioned by The Guardian, in 30 years, the Mar-a-Lago grounds would be covered by at least a foot of water for 210 days every year. By the end of the century—according to prediction models by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—Mar-a-Lago would be underwater year-round.

Half of Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club underwater with 5 feet of sea level rise. Credit: Climate Central's Surging Sea's risk mapping tool.

Using Climate Central’s sea level rise mapping tool, we can see Mar-a-Lago under a 5-foot sea level rise scenario. On the map above, it’s just above the Southern Boulevard bridge, and it stretches from the sea to the lake (hence, “Mar-a-Lago”). The lake-side half of the club is underwater, including, if you look carefully, the tennis courts.

Local governments are already acting to protect their communities, and plenty of local Republican leaders are begging the White House and Congressional leaders to start paying attention. Last March, more than a dozen Republican mayors signed a letter to the networks that were hosting the Presidential debates in Miami, demanding that they ask candidates about climate change. A few days later, the Republican mayors of Miami and Coral Gables penned an op-ed for the Miami Herald, urging GOP candidates to take the issue seriously:

As staunch Republicans, we share our party’s suspicion of government overreach and unreasonable regulations. But for us and most other public officials in South Florida, climate change is not a partisan talking point. It’s a looming crisis that we must deal with—and soon.

Palm Beach County Commissioner Steven Abrams, a Republican, says that, “Sea level rise and coastal flooding driven by climate change pose real, significant risks to our residents and should not be politicized ... We need to face this threat head-on by putting in place workable solutions that keep our homes and businesses above water.”

Monday’s hearing concluded with warnings that, left unchecked, sea level rise and warming-driven extreme weather will put billions of dollars of coastal property at risk of total inundation. If Trump cares about keeping his Winter White House above water, he’d be wise to listen to his vacation state’s scientists and Republican politicians who are trying in vain to warn him.

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The Senate Just Held A Hearing About Climate Change Right Outside The ‘Winter White House’