The Disastrous, Watery Future of South FloridaS

Barring a huge public works project the likes of which the world has never seen, south Florida is doomed. Its end will come not from Bugs Bunny wielding a saw, but from the gentle lapping of waves higher and higher upon the shore. Three points to ponder:

In June, Jeff Gooddell surveyed Miami's bleak prospects in Rolling Stone:

"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."[...]

The latest research, including an assessment by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, suggests that sea level could rise more than six feet by the end of the century. James Hansen, the godfather of global-warming science, has argued that it could increase as high as 16 feet by then – and Wanless believes that it could continue rising a foot each decade after that. "With six feet of sea-level rise, South Florida is toast," says Tom Gustafson, a former Florida speaker of the House and a climate-change-policy advocate. Even if we cut carbon pollution overnight, it won't save us. Ohio State glaciologist Jason Box has said he believes we already have 70 feet of sea-level rise baked into the system.

Likewise, the New York Times today notes the blase attitude taken by business and political interests in Florida thus far, despite the enormous implications of the sea level rise that will come in the next century:

The effects on real estate value alone could be devastating, Mr. Strauss said. His research shows that there is about $156 billion worth of property, and 300,000 homes, on 2,120 square miles of land that is less than three feet above the high tide line in Florida.

At that same level, Mr. Strauss said, Florida has 2,555 miles of road, 35 public schools, one power plant and 966 sites listed by the Environmental Protection Agency, such as hazardous waste dumps and sewage plants.

So: a sea level rise that is virtually guaranteed to swamp south Florida within the lifetime of children born today, combined with tens or hundreds of billions of dollars worth of real estate and infrastructure that is actively being bought, sold, and developed today. Something, clearly, must give. In a Michael Specter story last week about Climate Corporation, a company that provides weather forecasting and insurance to farmers, CEO David Friedberg mused on some of the looming implications of climate change on the US real estate sector:

"It's going to take a few climatic events in a row, I guess, and then everyone will say, 'I'm not going to keep buying Kansas real estate at this price,' or, 'I'm not going to keep developing in this harbor zone in Florida.' If you mark down all the stuff to what the discounted value should be—holy shit.'' He practically shouted. "It is bad. I am convinced it is going to happen, because the math says it has to happen in at least one or two or three parts of the world. And if it happens in any of them at any point in the next ten years it will make the housing crisis look small.''

The Miami Herald says that south Florida could lose more than $30 billion in real estate with a three-foot sea level rise, which is only half of what's predicted in the next century. The same story quotes a real estate agent as saying, "Waterfront is very desirable."

It was fun while it lasted, south Floridians. Get out while you can still find a greater fool to sell to.

[Photo: Flickr]