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Intro Policy Outreach

Intro / Policy / Outreach

The GreenKeys! Sustainability Action Plan is the result of a nearly 18-month planning process. It includes strategies, policies, and tools that the county can use to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase energy and water conservation, and strengthen the overall resilience of Monroe County to climate change and sea level rise.


Monroe County includes a mainland region as well as the Florida Keys archipelago.

The county is so environmentally diverse and historically important  that it contains 17 national and state parks.  The mainland portion of the county consists of primarily Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National  Preserve.

The Florida Keys are a collection of 1,700 islands stretching  220 miles that divide the Gulf of Mexico  from the Atlantic Ocean.  More than 99% of the county’s population lives in the  Keys, although the islands make up only 13% of the county’s  land mass.

com08441The Early Years

The Florida Keys were discovered in 1513 by Spanish Explorer Juan Ponce de Leon in his search for the “Fountain of Youth.” Over the next three  centuries, both Spain and Great Britain claimed Florida as a territory.

Named for the fifth president of the United States, James Monroe,  Monroe County was established in 1823 as the sixth county in the Florida territory.

In 1912, a new railroad from Miami to Key West forever changed the Keys. The railway was destroyed in the Labor Day Hurricane of  1935, but rebuilt by the federal government as the Overseas Highway, also known as U.S.  Highway 1. As the only roadway in and out of the Keys, it remains crucial for helping tourism become the major industry it is today.

floridaGeographic Vulnerability

The Florida Keys are on the front lines of climate change and sea level rise.  Because of their low-lying elevations, they are especially vulnerable to extreme weather events and rising  seas. In fact, the highest elevation is only 18 feet above sea level, on Windley Key.

Average elevations for the three sections  of the Florida Keys and the City of Key West:

  • Upper Keys – Ocean Reef to Tavernier Creek: Average elevation 4.8’
  • Middle Keys – Plantation Key to Knights Key (City of Marathon): Average elevation 4.29’
  • Lower Keys – Ohio Key to Stock Island: Average elevation 3.17’
  • City of Key West: Average elevation 4.7’

The Science Behind the Rising Seas

Among climate scientists, there is consensus that burning fossil fuels and deforestation are primary causes of increased GHGs in the atmosphere.  The consequences are dramatic:

  • increased melting of Arctic sea ice, which during some months almost entirely covers the Arctic
  • expansion of the tropical climate zone
  • rising sea levels caused by melting glaciers and ice sheets as well as thermal expansion of the oceans

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), sea level in South Florida has risen an average of 9 inches over the last 80 years.

The Future

Current  sea level rise projections do not account for future increases in ice-sheet melting. Therefore,  current estimates should be considered conservative and optimistic.

A responsible approach for the county should include the two major strategies for addressing  climate change:

  • Mitigation involves actions that slow GHG emissions to reduce the amount and speed of climate change.
  • Adaptation involves actions that reduce the impacts of climate change on existing society and the environment.

Public Involvement

Public involvement and intergovernmental coordination  play significant roles in forming policy and long-range visioning for the county.

The GreenKeys! recommendations were developed  in collaboration with experts and stakeholders from public and private sectors,  universities, and not-for-profit organizations.  Participants contributed subject area knowledge as well  as information about successful initiatives locally or elsewhere.

In addition, the county has numerous committees and boards, whose volunteer efforts and actions help shape and influence the county’s policies, infrastructure and design decisions, and social programs.  GreenKeys! furthers county efforts already underway  for sustainability and environmental stewardship.

Many of the  recommendations build on best practices throughout the  region. Others delve into new areas which call for the  integration of climate change and sustainability into planning  and decision making processes in ways that few local  governments have yet implemented.

Introduction and Background