The president chooses the nation’s most vulnerable state to talk about impacts of climate change and rising sea levels.
As a prop for President Obama’s Earth Day speech on climate change, the Everglades lacked the dramatic imagery of shrinking glaciers in Alaska or thedrought-stricken peaks of California. But Florida’s great swamp provided an urgency that other settings couldn’t:
South Florida already is in trouble from rising seas.
The third most populous state is one of the most vulnerable places on Earth to climate change. The combination of low, flat landscape and population density—three-fourths of its 19.9 million residents live in coastal counties—creates uniquely compelling climate challenges for the coming decades.
Already, more than half of Florida’s 825 miles of sandy beaches is eroding. Tourist destinations such as Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale have endured sunny-day flooding during exceptionally high tides for years.
The Everglades protects the aquifers of South Florida, so as sea level rises, so does the prospect that the drinking water of seven million people will become too salty.
“We do not have time to deny the effects of climate change, folks,” Obama said Wednesday in a speech at Everglades National Park. “Nowhere is it going to have a bigger impact than here in South Florida.”
Drinking Water at Risk
The President’s visit to the park was his first. He strolled with celebrity scientist Bill Nye along the Anhinga Trail, named for the long-necked water bird that swims underwater to hunt for fish. The boardwalk circles through a sawgrass marsh past the scene of a legendary 2003 battle between an adult alligator and a Burmese python that played out for 24 hours in front of horrified tourists, propelling the Everglades’ invasive python problem into the headlines.
“South Florida, you’re getting your drinking water from this area and it depends on this,” Obama said.