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Forecast: The Florida Keys are sinking

Part 1: Why America should care.

The Nature Conservancy has joined with the National Marine Sanctuary and others to study coral bleaching in hopes of finding ways to mitigate or adapt to the stresses of climate change. But increasingly they’re turning their attention to what lies onshore.

“We’re having conversations that we never dreamed of having,” Thomas said. “The Nature Conservancy has got to start saying, ‘Okay, what’s our investment worth to us, and should we continue investing?’”

“We’re not buying land here anymore,” Bergh said. “Where sea levels have been rising, there are winners and losers. It’s certainly worse for us who live on the island. And it’s worse for the terrestrial species.

“But all that then becomes marine environment. Once this is underwater, we still care about it. It will still be part of the Nature Conservancy’s mission when there’s coral there and fish there rather than deer and plants.

“If we can take the energy and money that we would have spent buying land to prepare the terrestrial environment to be a good future marine environment, that’s a really worthwhile thing to do. So if we have a toxic waste dump, get it cleaned up now before it goes underwater and spills out into the future marine environment,” Bergh added.

“Our strategy," Thomas said, "is to use this place as an example of why we should try to minimize the impacts of climate change and minimize the inputs that create it."

“And also to use it as a place to figure out how to adapt,” she added. “We’ll be an experiment, and other people can see it and learn.” 

Forecast: The global consequences of climate change

Part 1: Why America Should Care
The Florida Keys are shrinking
Can insurance cover the costs of climate change?
Who will be able to afford to live on the coast?

Part 2: The Spread of Disease
Pathogens find new habitats
Countries could backslide into poverty
How disease relates to carbon dioxide

Part 3: The Arctic Melt
Easier passage through the Arctic
A scramble for control of the Arctic
Opening the Arctic to damage

(Stephan Faris is the GlobalPost environment correspondent. Click here to buy his new book, "Forecast: The Consequences of Climate Change, from the Amazon to the Arctic, from Darfur to Napa Valley.")