Leveling up: Bay area sea level rise

Tampa Bay won’t drown in 2050, but there's still cause for concern.

When I set out to write an article about Tampa Bay in the year 2050, I expected it to have one of the following titles:

Tampa Bay: The new Atlantis

Tampa Bay: Hell, but aboveground and hotter

Tampa Bay: Move away!

But alas, the more scientists I talked to, the more I realized… everything is going to be fine for us. It’s the next generations that are screwed. But whatever, fuck them, right?

First of all, in 2050, we won’t be underwater. According to Dr. Gary Mitchum, professor of physical oceanography at USF, “We’re looking at 1-3 feet of sea level rise in the next 50 years.” So picture the flooding we already have, and add a few feet of water on top of that. (There are even nifty algorithms online that can determine whether or not your house will be officially aquatic.)

Fortunately, the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council has our back. A network of consortiums is already in place to discuss climate change and early response plans. “There are a few dramatic calls to evacuate everyone from the low-lying areas, but that’s just not pragmatic. You never know what’s going to happen in the next few decades,” says Maya Burke, a scientist who’s worked with the council. So Tampa Bay will not become Venice, Italy 2.0 by 2050.

And beyond 2050? “If we don’t start lowering our output of greenhouse gases now, sea levels will keep rising indefinitely,” says Dr. Mitchum. So it’s possible the next generation will have the pleasure of stand-up paddleboarding to work. But, you know…fuck them.

Dr. Mitchum was quick to remind me that sea level rise might not be our biggest issue. “The heat might chase us out first,” he claims. After experiencing the record-breaking temperatures this year, that prediction seems plausible. So in 2050, it will indeed be hotter. But air conditioning systems will indeed be stronger. Furthermore, our average population age may decrease dramatically, if the elderly aren’t willing to settle in such an extreme climate.

Then again, my grandma could slay on a stand-up paddleboard.

And beyond 2050? Well, “If the way we interact with our environment doesn’t change, then the rising temperatures will never plateau. They’ll just keep getting worse,” says Dr. Mitchum.

There are also weather patterns to consider. Historically, Tampa Bay has rarely been hit by tropical storms or hurricanes. But this particular superpower could go away due to climate change. Dr. Mitchum explains, “We can’t look at past statistics to predict this, since the temperatures are unprecedented.” Floods and outages brought on by Tropical Storm Colin reminded everyone just how vulnerable the area is. Thankfully, Maya Burke says, “Everyone is planning for the worst-case scenario.”

We plan for the worst-case scenario; the next generations live the worst-case scenario.

So anyone who says “fuck them” should be shot through the hole in the ozone layer into outer space, where their incompetent brain can swell to twice its normal size and hopefully explode.

Why aren’t we doing more to ensure the worst-case scenario is 3 feet and a few degrees? “It all comes back to economics,” Dr. Mitchum says ruefully. After speaking to groups of policymakers and officials, he hears the same thing over and over: “It’s just too expensive.”

More than anything else, Dr. Mitchum warns against “the cost of inaction.” Both locally and globally. Chances are, 2050 won’t look like a dystopian novel. But what people face in the future depends entirely on our actions today. If we don’t change, this may be one of the last generations to actually enjoy living here. 

Who could possibly implement such far-reaching reform? Politicians! Who elects politicians? Citizens! “I meet people who aren’t environmentalists because climate change won’t affect their life. I just ask them whether they have kids,” says Dr. Mitchum. So educate your weird neighbors.

Conclusion: In 2050, everything’s going to be OK. By the time any of this is actually a problem, I’ll be snuggled up in a nursing home, replaying virtual reality simulations of my youth and tweeting out my Last Will and Testament. But I still care. If you don’t, then fuck you.

Savannah Pearson is a freshman at George Washington University; she plans to major in English and Creative Writing.

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