Can Pensacola prepare for, and adapt to, a higher risk of flooding from rising seas and strong storms? That’s the topic of a talk tonight at the West Florida Public Library’s main branch in downtown Pensacola. WUWF’s Dave Dunwoody has a preview.
The argument is that rising sea levels are already underway, in large part because of human activities – specifically, the burning of fossil fuels. Christian Wagley, executive director of event sponsor 350 Pensacola, says there’s tangible evidence that the levels here are on the rise.
“There’s a tide gauge in downtown Pensacola, and it has shown over the last 25 years that accelerated sea level rise is here,” Wagley said. “The rate of rising is increasing; the amount of rise depends on whether and how aggressively we tackle switching to renewable energy. They’re looking at anywhere from 2-6 ft. of rise by the end of this century.”
And as water levels go up, so does erosion. When a storm blows in and piles up more water because the seas have risen, those storms are larger and penetrate further inland – which in turn causes more erosion.
“But there’s also erosion coming more from rain,” said Wagley. “Over the last 50 years or so the research shows that here in the Southeast the average larger rainstorms that have multiple inches at a time – they’re about 26% bigger than they use to be. Just for reference, a 10-inch rainstorm becomes nearly a 13-inch rainstorm.”
The guest speaker is Mikaela Heming, project coordinator and extension associate of the Northern Gulf of Mexico Sentinel Site Cooperative – a group of universities and research centers that study the issues in hopes of finding solutions.
“She’s going to really take the pulse of the community, figure out what people’s interest are,” said Wagley. “She’s got a series of different videos to show that have been shot in different communities here in our region – on the Gulf of Mexico – looking at local governments, other cities and towns, and how they’re actually dealing with these issues. How they’re preparing for these floods and these rain events; how they’re adapting, so we can learn from some of our regional colleagues.”
Even in conservative Northwest Florida, Wagley says interest in climate change has reached a crescendo throughout the region, along with a heightened level of interest.
“The amount of people that come out for our meetings now is tremendous,” Wagley said. “And I think more and more people having experienced something like a hurricane or some other storm event that can be in some ways traced to climate change. And I think that’s helping to change people’s mindset and see that these changes are here, they’re real, and we do need to start adapting and dealing with it.”
Wagley offers praise to the city of Pensacola for being a leader, pointing to a climate task force that met for a year and then returned findings about a year ago. But he adds that none of the recommendations have yet to be implemented.
“That’s why a lot of our work has been focused on [Pensacola], because the city has already engaged in the conversation and they’ve got some recommendations sitting there before them,” Wagley said. “And it’s incumbent upon the mayor and city council to act on those, and really prepare our city. And I think if our city of Pensacola gets on board and does some of these things, it will spill over into Escambia County and some of the other counties in the region.”
Wagley and other event organizers hope that attendees tonight will get enough information – and inspiration – to get involved.
“They’re going to learn some basic science about sea level rise and some of these flood events, and learn about some of the solutions being implemented in other communities along the Gulf Coast,” Wagley said. “There will be some talk about a process going forward for how a community can stay involved in that. And all these things we want to be done with the residents in these areas, obviously, to have a big say in what happens.”
The presentation kicks off at 6:00 this evening at the West Florida Library Branch on Spring Street. More information on rising seas is available at firstname.lastname@example.org.