Keren Prize Bolter helps coastal communities plan for the impacts of climate change
Keren Prize Bolter, E03, is a senior planner and sea level rise expert based in South Florida who helps coastal communities prepare for rising oceans and powerful storm surges, which are accelerating due to climate change. She works for Deltares USA, an applied research institute based in Silver Spring, MD, and has shared her expertise with a wider audience through TEDx Miami, PBS, and National Geographic. In May, she will be recognized for her leadership at the annual meeting of the National Academy of Engineering, where she will also present a lecture on adapting to sea level rise in Miami.
A native of South Florida, Bolter says summer camping trips inspired her love of nature and raised her concern about climate change well before it was front-page news. While studying engineering at Tufts, she held a campus job as recycling coordinator and attended regional climate events. For her Ph.D. at Florida Atlantic University, she compared perceived risk to the actual risk of sea level rise in Broward County. “What I found was that people had no idea about the risk of sea level rise to their property or neighborhood, and they didn't know how to find out. One of the most common questions I heard was: ‘Well, how do I know when the risks will become too much?’ It showed me how critical communication is to making climate change real and relevant.”
Nudging Toward Prevention
Listening to where people are coming from helps you “nudge them in the direction of reality and science,” Bolter says. “When people understand what is happening, and what is going to happen, they are better able to prepare and adapt. Increasing awareness about the science of climate change, and how we can shift from being reactive to preventative—these are the crux of everything I do.”
One important strategy is focusing on local impacts. “Climate change is so long-term, that to communicate effectively, to get people to actually take action, you have to be specific,” she says. “You have to talk about the things that are already happening where you live, in your neighborhood. How many days per year of flooding are we already experiencing?” Through her synagogue, she organizes the King Tide Walk in the neighborhoods of Hollywood, Florida, on the day that marks the highest tide of the year. “There can be three hours or so of water flooding the streets, overtopping docks and creeping into vegetation that is not salt tolerant,” she says. “We wear boots, because as we walk, the water just rises and rises on a sunny day.”
Where She Finds Hope
Bolter finds inspiration in guiding people—particularly those who live in low-lying coastal areas—to prepare for the unavoidable consequences of climate change. “Because of the work I do, I am hopeful that we can get ready for what is coming,” she says. “I will never say that I'm not hopeful. That's just not my way of life.”