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Scientists: Proof of climate change exists on Suncoast

First it was Governor Rick Scott ordering state employees not to use the term 'climate change' while conducting state business. Now President Trump's EPA is taking down it's climate change web page. They say there's no scientific consensus.

Scientists call it global warning, and the effects can be seen right here on the Suncoast. The shorelines that we know now won't look the same in a few years, according to local experts. They say the best case scenario is the ocean will rise about four feet. The worst case scenario is that sea levels rise seven feet and a majority of the keys are underwater. Not only the keys, but Sarasota and Manatee counties lose some of their shorelines.

"All of the heat that is in the ocean because of global warming," University of Miami professor Dr. Harold Wanless says. "Half of it has gone in since 1997. So if you are 20, half of the heat has gone in, that's because of population growth and increasing industrialization. If we only listened to people earlier, it would have been a smaller problem, but we are making it a bigger and bigger problem."

The effects of climate change on the Suncoast, don't stop there. Researchers say our area is roughly two degrees hotter now than it was 50 years ago. And that extreme rain events are happening more frequently, which causes flooding.

Researchers say every time we burn fossil fuels we make it worse.

"That will be in the atmosphere for 4,000 years," Dr. Wanless says. "When you think of it that way, you think oh my good, what are we doing? We think of it as some minor thing."

Scientists say the community needs to be aware of the risks that come with climate change on the Suncoast because it could affect your roads, ports and water supplies in the not so distant future.

"It has become way too politicized where I think under our state leadership, they don't even like using the term climate change," New College Professor Frank Alcock says. "I have a very negative reaction to that. It's not mandating anything in particular, but you can't ignore it."

Moving forward scientists say we can't undo what's already been done.

"We are in for it," Dr. Wanless says. "How do you cool down a warmed ocean?"

But as a community, we can plan for the future.

Dr. Wanless says every government should be making a plan. Locally, our city and county governments are doing that.

"We are just trying to come to grips with what is really happening," City Manager of Sarasota Tom Barwin says. "We are trying to minimize it but at the same time adapt to what we will be seeing in the next 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years because the community will be here."

In the city of Sarasota, officials have created a climate change adaption plan because they too have noticed the changes.

"Every time we see a king tide or high tide or serious beach erosion, we have areas that are vulnerable," Barwin says. "In fact, we are working to restore the lido beach shoreline as we speak. To a tropical storm we are vulnerable now."

It's started with education and helping people understand climate data and what it means for their lives.

"We have done some things already to help ourselves be more resilient," Stevie Freeman-Montes City of Sarasota's Sustainability Manager says. "We've built some lift stations higher. We've integration some storm water approaches to help us take in more flooding."

But that's just the start. Bigger infrastructure projects will take years.

"I think an important thing to talk about is when you look at a lot of these projections," Freeman-Montes says. "They are scenarios and that frustrates people. They'll say well that means the science isn't good enough because there are ranges. It is not the science so much. It's the range of how us humans will impact the future."

The climate change experts we talked to say the science is really not in doubt, and they're urging we get off of the fossil fuel bandwagon. They say elect leaders who will do something, and once they're elected, hold them accountable.

As for your property, Dr. Wanless says we are one mortgage cycle away from sea levels rising two feet. Prepare for that.

"All of these people who think they're investing for their grandchildren, they could be throwing money into the ocean. That's the real problem."