Key West also wants to switch its municipal vehicle fleet to hybrid or electric vehicles but is concerned that their low-hanging batteries will render them useless in storm-flooded streets. The conundrum illustrates the shift in the worldwide conversation on global warming, from focusing on cutting greenhouse gas emissions to adapting to climate change.
"How do we both want to go greener and mitigate our carbon footprint but at the same time adapt to the fact that the sea water is still coming up on us anyway?" Higgins says.
The Keys are among the cities and coastal areas worldwide building or planning defenses to protect people and infrastructure from more powerful storm surges and other effects of global warming.
New York City has proposed installing removable flood walls, restoring marshes, and flood-proofing homes.
In Cuba, the largest island in the Caribbean and one dependent on European and Canadian tourists, inspectors and demolition crews are planning to raze thousands of houses, restaurants, hotels and improvised docks to restore much of the coast to something approaching its natural state. A luxury tourist destination, the Maldives, has built a seawall around its capital, plans to relocate residents from vulnerable islands to better protected ones and is creating new land through land reclamation, expanding existing islands or building new ones.
As the Keys have realized, adaptations to climate change have to be made on a case-by-case basis, says Joe Vietri, director of the Army Corps of Engineering's National Planning Center of Expertise for Coastal Storm Damage Reduction, which has begun a $20 million study exploring ways to protect the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region from sea level rise and extreme flooding caused by hurricanes.
"The good news is if you start now, you have plenty of time to affect some meaningful change," Vietri said. "I'm very pleased with the work that a lot of municipalities are doing. They got a major wake-up call during (Superstorm) Sandy."