Miami’s Coastline and the Climate Change Deniers

Posted on 16th July 2019

In Miami, the city in low-lying south Florida, climate change is already happening yet the city’s leaders are in denial.

Every year, with the coming of high spring and autumn tides, the sea surges up the Florida coast and hits the west side of Miami Beach, which lies on a long, thin island that runs north and south across the water from the city of Miami.

When strong winds ever-frequently turn into hurricanes tidal surges turn into walls of seawater and batter Miami Beach’s west coast.  The seawater sweeps into the resort’s storm drains, reversing the flow of water that normally comes down from the streets above. This reversal of the flow of water means that seawater overflows from the drains and gutters causing untold damage to businesses, infrastructure and transport.

A new report from the Center for Climate Integrity estimates that $3.4 billion needs to spent by 2040 on building sea-defenses. Yet, the sea is already surging in South Florida. Global sea level increased by six to eight inches over the past century, and that number is expected to accelerate as mountain glaciers and polar ice caps continue to melt due to climate change. It is estimated that the sea could rise another six to 12 inches by 2030 and 14 to 34 inches by 2060.

By the end of the century entire communities in Florida could be swallowed by the rising sea, with the Miami coastline being hit the worst. Despite the funding needed for the sea-defenses, scientists agree that this future spending is only a short-term solution that does nothing to address the underlying causes of climate change.

Harold Wanless, a geology professor at the University of Miami, warns:

“There has been a rise of about 10 inches in sea levels since the 19th century – brought about by humanity’s heating of the planet through its industrial practices – and that is now bringing chaos to Miami Beach by regularly flooding places. And it is going to get worse. By the end of this century we could easily have a rise of six feet, possibly 10 feet. Nothing much will survive that. Most of the land here is less than 10 feet above sea level.”

Most of Florida’s senior politicians – in particular, Senator Marco Rubio, former governor Jeb Bush and current governor Rick Scott, all Republican climate-change deniers – have refused to act or respond to warnings of people like Wanless. Rubio, a 2016 presidential candidate, has stated:

“I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it. I do not believe that the laws that they propose we pass will do anything about it, except it will destroy our economy,”

With such denial, new building construction in the form of homes, shopping centres and business complexes continue at pace despite the fact that the very foundations they are built on may be washed away in a generation. In fact, in Miami, the local population is rising and the price of land has increased meaning any warnings about climate change have not been heeded to date.

If Miami can’t contain constant sea-water sweeping into its streets residents will not be able to flush away their sewage and taps will no longer provide homes with fresh water. This will result in these residents not being able to obtain flood insurance and the knock-on effects will begin. Land and property values will plummet meaning people will start to leave. Places like South Miami will no longer be able to raise enough taxes to run neighbourhoods and the local economy will be devasted.

Wanless summarizes the plight of Miami saying:

“The next two or three feet of sea-level rise that we get will do away with just about every barrier island we have across the planet. Then, when rises get to four-to-six feet, all the world’s great river deltas will disappear and with them the great stretches of agricultural land that surrounds them. People still have their heads in the sand about this but it is coming. Miami is just the start. It is worth watching just for that reason alone. It is a major US city and it is going to let itself drown.”

 

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