Re-purpose your campaign signs to make a political statement about sea level rise

Main | < | 2018>

Miami Herald
By Xavier Cortada
November 06, 2018

Artist Xavier Cortada suggests that South Florida homeowners recycle their campaign signs to make a statement about sea level rise. XAVIER CORTADA

Tuesday, we voted in record numbers, exercising the right every veteran and civil rights leader fought so hard for us to keep. We cast our ballots. But our job is far from done.

Our nation is fractured, polarized. Governance is broken. Partisanship and divisiveness ruled the midterms. We need to come together to build a more perfect union. We need to animate democracy.

With the election behind us, let’s leave the rhetoric and fear-mongering behind, too, and talk openly and honestly with each other about a threat we all face in a state surrounded by water: sea level rise.

Virtually all scientists tell us pollution traps heat in the atmosphere, warms the planet and melts polar glaciers, causing the oceans to rise. The science is indisputable. So is this: Antarctica is coming to town, and it doesn’t care if you are a Republican or a Democrat. Protecting the environment can never be a partisan issue. We need to find a way to come together to solve the problem so the environment always wins.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, South Florida’s sea level could be 3 feet higher by 2060 and as much as 8 feet by 2100. In the past century, the sea has risen 9 inches in Key West. So the trend is clear.

My house stands at 6.13 feet above sea level. Scientists say that by the time I pay off my 30-year mortgage seas may rise by another 2.5 to 3 feet. Negative feedback loops in the melting Arctic and our insatiable addiction to fossil fuels make that timeline woefully unpredictable. But there are other things homeowners need to worry about even before the water begins to lap at our doorsteps: Exorbitant flood insurance costs, property devaluation, contamination of clean drinking water with salt water intrusion. A rising water table will make our septic tanks inoperable. A warmer climate will affect agricultural productivity and usher in tropical diseases. Warmer waters will adversely affect marine ecosystems, making us more vulnerable to algal blooms. Rising seas will make our flood-insurance costs skyrocket, tax base vulnerable and property values unpredictable.

Let’s take a stand today to protect our home. Take that campaign yard sign on your front lawn, paint it in white (the color of the Antarctic) glaciers and make a new kind of political statement.

Step 1: Visit Eyes on the Rise toolbox ( Using the toolbox, insert your home address to find your property elevation (mine is 6.13 feet).

Step 2: Draw the number of your propertys elevation on the right side of the sign. Paint a squiggly line across the bottom of the sign in blue to represent the rising seas. (You can make this drawing on paper and tape it to your yard sign.)

Step 3: Take a photo of the sign in your front yard (showing your home in the background).

Step 4: Visit the @UnderwaterHOA page on Facebook and “Like” the page. Post your photo, and a comment if desired, using the hashtag #UnderwaterHOA.

Step 5: Use the transformed political sign as a catalyst for a new kind of political conversation with your neighbors: Work together and learn to advocate for your neighborhood as we tackle the invading seas, and perhaps even organize yourselves as own the Underwater Homeowners Association. Visit to learn more about this effort and our science partners at Florida International University and the University of Miami.

If a hurricane was heading our way, we would all prepare for it. Sea level rise is giving us a wider time horizon before it hits us. That’s good. Given the unpredictability and the scale of the impact, we can use all the help we can to organize ourselves as neighbors and citizens. But first, we can’t continue to deny the problems . Let’s name it. Let’s write it down, put it out there on our front lawns. Let’s talk about it and problem-solve.

Unlike other global coastlines, South Florida’s shoreline is particularly vulnerable. Neither a levee nor an embankment will not be able to hold back the rising seas. Porous limestone beneath the ground will allow the water to rise from beneath.

By mapping the impending crisis, I want us to make the invisible visible. Block by block, house by house, neighbor by neighbor, I want to make the future impact of sea level rise something impossible to ignore.

Lets rebuild our faith in one another. Lets come together and build a more resilient community. Lets care for one another and those not yet born. Let’s create stronger democracy for those who follow.

Xavier Cortada is an artist and collaborator with the McMurdo Dry Valleys Long Term Ecological Research project in Antarctica. He was recently elected chairman of the Miami-Dade County Cultural Affairs Council, a 15-member volunteer advisory board.