“Miami, as we know it today, is doomed”

My neighborhood doesn’t flood. Cockroaches and star spiders hang out in Westchester to escape flooding. In 2010 Allstate and Florida thought otherwise. For the first time in memory, the area was classified as a flood zone. Owning a condo meant I paid a much cheaper group rate, so the yearly burden wasn’t onerous. Still. Florida and a formidable insurance company knew something. A field meeting today at Miami Beach City Hall chaired by Senator Bill Nelson mentioned what doesn’t need to be said but nevertheless must be repeated.

Now that climate is changing, and as Nelson said at the start of the South Florida hearing: “This is Ground Zero.” Scientists have documented that the seas along the Florida coastline have risen five to eight inches over the last fifty years, and Biscayne Bay now floods the streets of my neighborhood just about every month at high tide. “It’s real. It’s happening here,” Nelson said. “Yet some of my colleagues in the Senate continue to deny it.”

It is real, and it’s already a problem in my low-lying part of the world. Saltwater intrusion is increasing in the freshwater Everglades, which is causing problems for farmers in southern Miami-Dade County, and will make the government’s $15 billion Everglades restoration project even more expensive. The Army Corps of Engineers has estimated that over the next fifty years, Miami-Dade’s beaches will need about 23 million cubic yards of new sand to deal with erosion. Mayor Philip Levine says Miami Beach alone plans to spend $400 million to upgrade drainage infrastructure to prepare for a warmer world. The Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change’s “likely scenario” for 2010 includes seas rising as much as three feet; our county has $38 billion worth of property at three feet elevation or less. And while it’s too early to tie any particular storm to climate change, all the models predict more intense hurricanes coming through the Sunshine State. “The risk posed by coastal flooding is indisputably growing,” testified Megan Linkin, a natural hazards specialist at the reinsurance giant Swiss Re.

Gore Vidal’s Abraham Lincoln wearily remarks to William Seward that one of the salient phenomena of political life is reminding people of the obviousness of certain facts. Here’s a fact:

But the unavoidable truth is that sea levels are rising and Miami is on its way to becoming an American Atlantis. It may be another century before the city is completely underwater (though some more-pessimistic­ scientists predict it could be much sooner), but life in the vibrant metropolis of 5.5 million people will begin to dissolve much quicker, most likely within a few decades. The rising waters will destroy Miami slowly, by seeping into wiring, roads, building foundations and drinking-water supplies – and quickly, by increasing the destructive power of hurricanes. “Miami, as we know it today, is doomed,” says Harold Wanless, the chairman of the department of geological sciences at the University of Miami. “It’s not a question of if. It’s a question of when.”

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