Climate Change and the Rising Tide

climate change and Miami

Due to climate change, sea level is rising. In the last 100 years sea level rose by 16–21 cm (6.3–8.3 in). A number of recent studies have concluded that by the end of this century we could be facing as much as another 6ft. When faced with this reality, how do people who live in wealthy but highly vulnerable areas such as Miami cope with this reality?

The answer is something that humans are very good at doing – complete denial.

Just how bad will Climate Change be for Miami?

Below is a simulation of what happens to Miami as sea level rises. Note that even 1 foot is devastating.

You might perhaps be tempted to think that a viable solution is to simply build sea barriers. It works in Holland, so why not in Miami? That however is not an option. The city sits on top of limestone, hence the sea would quite literally bubble up from under their feet. The term is “sunny day flooding”.

What will happen is inevitable. Zillow Inc. estimates that six feet of sea-level rise, which is possible by the end of this century, would put a quarter of Miami’s homes underwater, rendering $200 billion of real estate worthless.

Heaven or High Water

Sarah Miller, a writer for Popula, decided to pose as a property buyer in Sunset Harbour in Miami, a spot that is deemed to be at most risk, hence will be impacted first. The result is an article that paints a portrait of our human ability to practise cognitive dissonance.

To give you a feel for what she encountered, here are a couple of extracts from her article that is titled “Heaven or High Water” …

I asked how the flooding was.

“There are pump stations everywhere, and the roads were raised,” he said. “So that’s all been fixed.”

“Fixed,” I said. “Wow. Amazing.”

I asked how the hurricanes were.

He said that because the hurricanes came from the tropics, from the south and this was the west side of Miami Beach, they were not that bad in this neighborhood. “Oh, right,” I said, as if that made any sense.

Regarding that last observation regarding Hurricanes, yes, the correct response is indeed “WTF”, and the sightly longer response is “That’s not how that works“.

You might perhaps also wonder if it was just one shady real-estate guy keen for a sale.

Er … no.

The next open house was not far and I decided to get lunch beforehand in Sunset Harbour. I popped into a store where the sidewalk had been raised. “There used to be flooding here,” the owner said, as she folded a soft sweater. She had long dark hair and, as seemed to be de rigueur in Miami Beach, lash extensions. “But they put in pumps and it’s been fixed.”

“So I hear,” I said.

“Yeah,” she said. “It’s amazing.”

“I don’t know if I understand this,” I said. “The sidewalk is raised, but—where does the water go?”

“Into the drain,” she said. “Well. Except for one time. One time the store was flooded. But it’s fixed.”

“Not now” as well as, “Not us”, were common ways to rationalise things …

…”she said sure, there was a problem, but if anything was going to happen, she thought it would be more like in fifty years than thirty”…

…”There were just too many millionaires and billionaires here for a disaster on a great scale to be allowed to take place.”…

...“Anyway, people are working really hard to prevent anything from happening,” she continued….


So what will really happen, have they actually got solutions?

This is what she found when she asked those that know …

…I spoke to Astrid Caldas, a senior climate scientist with the Climate & Energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. According to their projections, by 2030, there will be fifty days of sunny day flooding per year. By 2045, there will be 250 per year. She then confirmed my suspicion that while the raising of buildings was good for the buildings, it didn’t do much for the well-being of those living inside. “Yes, you do need to be able to get out of the building to get medicine and groceries,” she said. “If all the streets are flooded, what then?”…

This last extract nails the pure denial that prevails …

As we walked down the stairs to the first floor, she turned to look at me. She was very earnest, standing very close. I felt her beauty soak into me. “It’s Miami,” she said. “We are surrounded by water! There’s not a solution. But nothing is going to happen!”

Why Mention Miami?

Its a microcosm, Miami is all of us. We are today faced with the greatest threat our species have ever faced, climate change, and yet we don’t truly focus on it or even come to terms with it. Instead we are doing exactly what these people in Miami are doing … “Yes, climate change is a problem but we will fix it” … “it will only really happen many years from now” … or even, “oh it’s all fixed, we have electric cars and the Paris Agreements now, so the problem is solved“, etc…

We are so far not taking decisive meaningful action that truly addresses climate change, but instead we are simply tweaking a few things and then hoping that will be enough.

It’s understandable. We are all heavily invested emotionally in the way things currently are. To be able to truly come to terms with our reality is challenging. Miami might indeed be a party that has a very stark end-date that is fast approaching. That however is not just something unique to them, it applies to all us, our entire species.

We need to wake up.

Further Reading

It is a long read, but also an interesting one. I’ve simply plucked out a few brief snippets. If time permits, it is worth reading Sarah’s full article – Heaven or High Water that was published on 2nd April 2019.

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