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As Seas Rise, Miami Development Continues Unabated

Posted on 3 January 2017 by greenman3610

Jeff Goodell, Rolling Stone contributing editor, has a warning for south Florida residents: “Miami, as we know it today, is not going to exist.”

That’s because the ocean is rising, and it will be hard to keep the water out. Some Miami neighborhoods already flood during high tides.

And yet, “the building here is going on at a record rate … high-rises all along the beach. Basically, nothing has changed,” Goodell says in this month’s “This Is Not Cool” video by independent videographer Peter Sinclair.

Describing how extensive parts of South Florida are “built on a big porous sponge,” he says levees cannot mitigate the problem. “It’s just a big flat limestone pancake.”

“The ice did not get the memo to stop melting in the year 2100,” adds Retired Admiral David Titley, the former chief naval oceanographer now teaching at Penn State. He cautions of sea-level problems ahead even if global temperatures are somehow capped at the 2°C threshold sought under the December 2015 Paris climate agreement.

Goodell says the “resort culture” of the area means those problems often are overlooked and “are not part of the culture here … It’s a place where you go to get away from problems, to have fun on the beach.”

Goodell points to ongoing ambitious new housing and other development activities in the face of continually rising sea level: “It’s the Miami sea-level rise story in a nutshell,” he says. “Nothing is changing.”

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Comments 1 to 20:

  1. I've read, in the news, maybe last Summer?, that developers calculate that by 2040, many Miami oceanfront buildings today will be in trouble, but figure they will have made back their investments with profit by 2030, so who cares?  Of course I could just be making this up?

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  2. So hire Goldman to create a derivative that permits a long term short of the insurance companies with large exposure to low lying areas.

    No one ever went broke betting on Americans doing the wrong thing.

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  3. I think the key to this sea level rise issue is people having good information, and governments making sure this is provided by appropriate bodies. For example in New Zealand we have a document called a Lim (land information memorandum) that local government have to provide to anyone contemplating building or significantly altering a house. It warns of known problems or hazards.

    This Lim is going to now include sea level rise estimates for all low lying properties and related information, but in simple concise form. It's being developed right now.

    It will give people information relevant to local conditions in specific cities, but without automatically dictating where they can build or how they build. It will be based on IPCC middle range estimates, and also considers local geology (erosion, uplift and subsidence etc) and for NZ this equates to about 1 metre by the end of the  century. It will be upgraded as estimates change.

    This is at least a start. Nobody will be able to say they weren't warned.

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  4. So? 

    If you're planning to live there for 15 years, what will probably happen in 2040 is not your issue. If you're now 70 and are buying property, you'll be somewhere else well before 2040. The nasty effects of SLR on South Florida beyond nuisance flooding will be after 2050. By then perhaps they'll have problems with no technical solution, but nobody buying now cares. 

    Yeah, it's stupid, but stupid is usually the rule. Then again, when smart people bravely invent a new world, it's usually far worse than the work of the 'stupid' folks.  

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  5. Driving by,

    They currently are spending several hundred million dollars to raise streets in Miami.  Someone has to pay those increased fees now.  The pictures of businesses two steps down from the road don't make you feel very welcome.  That can't be good for business.  Tourists wading to their apartments do not look good either.

    When they get the next hurricane it will be a foot deeper.  That will cause a lot more flooding.  When the hurricane hits it might be the last straw for the Federal flood insurance.  

    If the Feds get out of insurance most of the homes in Miami will not be insurable.  What will that do to housing values?  Once insurance rates reflect current risk billions of dollars of real estate value  will vanish.  After Sandy they talked about raising rates and property became unsellable.  Insurance costs were as high as mortgages for properties.  That faded as the Feds backed down.  I think that after the next big hurricane, wherever it strikes, the Feds will finally raise rates.  If not the first hurricane than the second.  A big hurricane hits the US every 5 or 10 years.

    There is a good chance the bottom will drop out of the market all at once when insurance goes up.  I do not think we will have to wait until 2040 for that to happen.

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  6. Clearly the insurance companies are still giving insurance for these buildings and they don't give insurance if they are going to loose money.  They are therefore, most likely depending on the government (taxpayer) to bail them out and in the mean time they are pocketing big premiums.  It boils down to the root of most of our truly serious problems today.  We have to get vested interest money out of politics.  As long as the insurance companies can finance the politicians, they will carry on using our money to bail out the insurance companies.  At least with zero financing of politicians by vested interests we would have a chance of sorting out the mess.

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  7. What worries me it that Miami's problems are carbon copied to Christchurch NZ, except that we are built on equally porous alluvial gravels. We delight in the thought that beautifully fresh & clean water can percolate through the gravels from mountain snowfall but steadfastly ignore the fact that rising sea water can reverse the flow. With the present day high tide mark on our Avon river barely a km from the center of ChCh, the predicted 5m SLR from the optimistic 2°C temperature increase will leave much of the city underwater.

    No doubt the same or similar problems will occur world-wide.

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  8. >>I've read, in the news, maybe last Summer?, that developers calculate that by 2040, many Miami oceanfront buildings today will be in trouble, but figure they will have made back their investments with profit by 2030, so who cares? Of course I could just be making this up?<<

    It's (to misquote the economists' phrase) the "Buyer of last resort" problem.

    Not only does the house owner have to consider his own tenancy term but also whether the NEXT owner would buy at the end of his ownership.

    Then of course whether the potential buyer would himself make the same assumption. How far down the chain of ownership is it sensible to go?

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  9. knaugle@1: In real estate development the rent-to-value ratio is important. If demand from renters is high enough in a particular area, rents can go high enough to justify building temporary structures.

    An extreme example was the Chicago World's Fair in 1893 which featured 200 new buildings that were mostly demolished after one year of use. But those buildings were purposely designed to be temporary, so they were cheaper to build than permanent structures.

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  10. nigelj@3: in the USA every flood zone has been mapped by FEMA for decades, yet every time the designated flood zones do what they're predicted to do - flood - there are always victims acting surprised.

    In October 2001, a few years before Hurricane Katrina in 2005, a paper in Scientific American described what a major hurricane strike could do to New Orleans. Of course it was largely ignored at the time. Only after the 1000-plus deaths and billions in property damage occurred did priorities shift to free up the billions needed to improve the flood defenses of New Orleans. But they're flushing money away on a lost cause, as future costs will rise geometrically as sea levels go up.

    My advice to anyone living within a vertical meter of high tide: sell now while there are still climate science deniers or ignorers dumb enough to buy.

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  11. People are probably continuing to build in these low lying areas for several reasons. It's probably partly ignorance about sea level rise, and part hoping it will be the next owners probem, and as someone says assuming the government will bail out the insurance companies, or otherwise fix the problem for "free".

    But nothing is free. This is kicking the can down the road, and putting the costs on tax payers or future generations, somewhat unfairly. It's the same issue as Americas ever growing public (government) debt, a problem many other countries have as well.

    At the very least people need good information from local governments so they can make informed choices. Those occasional "nuisance"floods will get worse and dumb buyers probably don't realsie the water can be contaminated with sewerage and cause severe damage and take weeks to repair.

    It leaves the question of whether local government should have building laws banning developement in very low lying areas, or at least require higher than normal foundations. Anyone with any sense should push for this. Slightly higher foundations wont add much cost.

    Don't count on local bodies building barriers to protect things.

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  12. Daniel Mocsny @10, what you say applies to floods. In my country we are going further with information on sea level rise trends tailored to specific cities. It may not alter behaviour, but at least people would be informed and have nobody else to blame, and can make informed choices.

    "My advice to anyone living within a vertical meter of high tide: sell now while there are still climate science deniers or ignorers dumb enough to buy."

    Totally agree. And if people must build on very low land at least think about foundation heights. The cost of this may be small compared to preserving good resale value, especially if  you intend to live in one place for a lengthy time. Sea level rise is expected to follow an accelerating trend and may catch unwary people out.

    However I admit good foundation height would be of limited value if other infrastructure is vulnerable.

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  13. My cousin and his husband live in a high rise condominium a few blocks from the ocean in Fort Lauderdale.  They are on the ground floor.  I encouraged them to consider how they would respond to a major hurricane.  A month later, Hurricane Mathew came by.  They hunkered down.  Fortunately the storm's eye did not follow the coast line as predicted.  The eye was 20 miles out in the ocean.  Therefore they were spared a Sandy scale storm surge.  They got away with it.  They are only leasing the apartment, therefore are not as at risk financially.  If a significant storm surge  put them under, they can take the stairwell to upper floors to protect themselves.  However, it is a personal example a couple that is comitted to being in a hip location by ignoring the vulnerabilities.  

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  14. EliofVA @13, I think as a general rule people mentally calculate the odds of some problem, and rank that against the advantages of living in some fashionable area, or one that may also have jobs. I would do this. Psychological and economic research has found we mentally calculate the odds and trade offs, and its totally normal.

    Floods have some level of predictability: For example maybe once a year on average in locations near where I live. This makes it easier to make a mental risk and cost assessment, and many people decide to live with flood prone environments. ( Not eagerly, but having considered the costs and benefits)

    I would suggest sea level rise is different. It is an increasing phenomenon and harder to quantify costs and effects, other than to say it's not looking good. As you say people are ignoring the vulnerabilities. We also have people claiming global warming is a scam. People are thus likely to be making poor quality decisions, and not doing well informed mental calculations, or taking sufficient precautions.

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  15. Developers in South Fla are already having trouble with financing coastal development with out requiring overly large pre-construction down payments ! The Federal Flood Insurance is already deep in debt and only meeting current needs by using private reinsurance ! These private rates are rapidly increasing and I believe the Fed Ins is up for renewal this year and they had a hard time passing the previous legislation ! Our  Coastal Condo dropped its flood ins policy last year due to cost increase ! The Coastal Cities tax base are going to crash as values drop and these properties become tax liabilitys !

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  16. Daniel Mocsny

    "even though the goal of all the high-level actions is to nudge individuals to burn less fossil fuel"

    I disagree somewhat. That is one of the goals. Individual changes contribute, but there are limits to what an individual can do to burn less. Smaller car, better insulated house, walk more etc. But they can't individually drive the bigger changes, and certainly not quickly.

    Take for example their car. They can buy a smaller car, they maybe can buy a more fuel efficient car. But the best they can do is buy the best that is available on the market. If car companies aren't investing in the design of seriously more efficient cars, the consumer can't buy them. So taxes and other policies  need to pressure the companies as much as targeting consumers. So too electricity generation, will a utility build a coal plant, a gas plant or a wind farm. Its all electrons to the consumer.

    Policy is aimed at a mix of influencing individuals and influencing organisations and companies. And a broader range of policies can be employed against the organisations than individuals.

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  17. Glenn... Totally right. And not only that, often companies, and even entire industries, become resistant to change. Keeping things the same is easy. Changing is hard. The auto industry is a perfect example.

    Back in the 1970's the US auto industry would swear up and down, and until the cows came home, that "Americans love big cars!" Truth was, they couldn't efficiently produce a small car profitably. But rather than try to learn how they merely relied on this "big cars" rhetoric. 

    The Japanese auto companies did figure out how to make small cars efficiently and as a result they ate the US auto industry's lunch.

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  18. humans fear factor, everyone just seems take it for granted that nothing can change, what would cause a ice age, if earth is warming don't the core warm also? Maybe a super volcano soon, maybe someone will make a simple spray released from aircraft that break CO2 down, maybe we could just vent it into space just run some long pipes lol

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  19. A lot of "maybe" there, KGB. Maybe we're all living in a simulation and somebody will tweak our code, fix everything. 

    "Maybe" doesn't apply when you're standing on the smooth spot where your home was, or skimming sediment out of the living room. Try "maybe I'll sleep on my wet, fungus-ridden mattress." Does it sound appealing? Maybe not.

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  20. I suppose they could fill the bottom floors of tall buildings with concrete and enter at the second floor.  Wharves could be built to moor boats and singing boatmen imported from Florence.  Going with the flow so to speak.  There should be a great business opportunity for raising houses a few meters and putting piling underneath.   Could be quite exciting too.  There should be an influx of crocodiles and water moccasins and even the giant hybrid pythons.  Mangroves will become the favored (or only) garden plant that will grow.  Spoon bills and other birds will use them to nest and the area will become a naturalist paradise.  "always look on the bright side of life"

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