Keys Weekly: What we value is what we protect

Far too often, critical issues become siloed into conversations about winners and losers. Dividing everything important into political divisions is a sure way to resolve nothing.

Sea level rise needs to escape the clutches of anyone who will use it for any purpose other than uniting us and coming together to rise to meet the most crucial challenge of our time.

Here is a checklist of what to watch out for as we seek to maintain our community values and quality of life in the face of the rising tide.

The environment is our friend.  Why did we ever allow political discourse to pit us against Mother Earth? Every economic success enjoyed by America can be traced to our wealth of natural resources. Key West has the rich ecosystem required to push the impacts of sea level rise further into the future if we are smart to allow them to flourish – sand, the reef, mangroves, seagrasses, and, yes, water can be effectively used to sustain our lives.

Everyone’s living standard is tied to a community’s home values and here’s why. When our market is devalued because of the negative stigma caused by sea level rise projections, we all lose value. Property values are tied to public finance, essential to providing basic services and infrastructure that impacts us all.  If a community cannot begin to adapt to known risks, then lending freezes, insurance increases, investments wither and both mortgages and rents cost more. This isn’t about what’s good for banks or realtors but for anyone living along the coast, If we manage our risks, our living costs can remain predictable.

Government can only do so much.  It would be so easy if we could just throw all responsibility to the public sector for creating innovative solutions to address the new normal of living with the rising tide. New ideas and inventions will come from a combination of public and private sources. Research will get us there while we buy time with the plans we now have in place to adapt to the change. Governments must have adaptation plans and the private sector must act responsibly to maintain a healthy and growing economy that is affordable for residents.

Key West has a unique opportunity in 2020 to lead in adapting to environmental change. Granted, the stakes are high, but if we build a cooperative approach and address the three-legged stool just mentioned, we send an important message out from our little island that retreat is not an option for the foreseeable future.  The perception that the negative stigma of sea level rise is being address will clearly demonstrate that the rewards of living in our island community far outweigh the challenges that lie ahead.

A month ago, I remember taking a holiday trolley ride through the streets of Key West. Here we had lights and displays twinkling across our community. The community pride and creativity were obvious. Some homes were owned and some rented. Our parade was filled with spirited delights as kids and adults alike united under the Conch Republic stars. We are a town of lavish gifts and others collected to make sure no one was empty-handed. These are the values that we have to protect, all working together in the coming year to make our city sea safe.

Keeping this in mind, let’s imagine a new year’s resolution where we commit to displaying unity for our higher purpose of protecting what we value, living with water, and building our future in concert with nature.

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Valsin A. Marmillion is managing director of America’s WETLAND Foundation, adjunct instructor at University of Florida, and leads an effort to help coastal communities adapt to sea level rise with the Sea Safe Community Certification program. He and his partner own The Peace Store in Key West. americaswetland.com

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