What rising sea levels could mean for Miami and South Florida

Theodore Robin
By Théodore Robin, GLOBUS Correspondent

In March 2015, the then-governor (now Senator) Rick Scott of Florida allegedly pressured state agencies to avoid using the word “climate change”[1]. Critics have argued that Mr. Scott has shown through his policy that he does not believe climate change exists[2], and, that he has never claimed that it exists.

Yet Florida is nevertheless one of the states most susceptible to climate change and rising sea levels. The peninsula has many low-lying flatlands, and most of the state’s population lives on or close to the coast[3]. Florida is surrounded by water on three sides, the Gulf of Mexico to the West and the Atlantic Ocean to the South and the East. Florida is also hit by many hurricanes every summer. All this is to say that Florida is very vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.

One of the regions most at risk in Florida is the Greater Miami area, which has a total population of 6 million people. Most live only a few kilometres away from the ocean. Most of South Florida is only at around 4 feet (less than 1.5 meters) in elevation, according to Ben Kirtman[4], Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Miami. According to forcasts, sea levels are expected to rise 3 to 8 feet (0.9 meters to 2.5 meters) in this region, which means that communities like Miami Beach could disappear, perhaps entirely. Furthermore, some areas of South Florida have already experienced as much as 12 inches (30 centimetres) of sea level rise over the last century. Another issue is that Miami sits on bed of porous limestone, which means that even communities that are not located on the coastline may still be affected by flooding. Dry floods, also known as sunny-day flooding, are specific to this part of the world. This type of flooding occurs because of tidal movements, and not because of rainfall.

Moreover, another issue facing the metropolis is climate injustice, as low-income communities are the most affected by regular flooding. Funds are not spent equally across all communities – some are left out, as in the case of Liberty City, where many feel left out by authorities. Community activists, such as Valencia Gunder, claim that “the city (Miami) doesn’t spend as much money on our community (Liberty City) as they do with Miami Beach which is unfair[5]. Officials have more an incentive to save Miami Beach – worth billions and billions of dollars in real estate.

It is estimated that 50% of the population in Miami lives at or below the poverty rate[6].  Some experts, such Ben Kirtman, also see sea level rise as an opportunity, because, ashe explains, innovative technology could possibly lead to economic growth, where South Florida would become a centre for sea-level technology, equipment and solutions.

Many of the solutions planners have come up with thus far seem very short-term oriented.  There is no federal plan to combat the effects of sea-level rise. These include installing pump-stations and raising the elevation of streets above sea level. These solutions seem like band-aids on a larger wound. Additionally, because of Florida’s porous limestone, building sea walls or levees would not work. This means that South Florida must come up with innovative ways to combat climate change and rising sea levels. Perhaps technology can be developed using the Dutch-style polders and dunes.

[1] “Fla. Gov. Scott Denies ‘Climate Change’ Is A Banned Term” by Greg Allen- March 2015 https://www.npr.org/2015/03/11/392263831/fla-gov-scott-denies-climate-change-is-a-banned-term

[2] “Rick Scott’s Climate Record Condemned As Hurricane Michael Bears Down On Florida” by Richard Luscombe- October 2018 (The Guardian) https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/oct/09/hurricane-michael-rick-scott-climate-record-slammed

[3] Florida population distribution map by the US Census Viewer  http://florida.us.censusviewer.com/client

[4] “Is South Florida Doomed By Sea-Level Rise? Experts Say No. In Fact, They’re Optimistic” by Kate Stein-March 2018 (The Guardian)  http://www.wlrn.org/post/south-florida-doomed-sea-level-rise-experts-say-no-fact-theyre-optimistic

[5] “Rising seas: ‘Florida is about to be wiped off the map‘” by Elizabeth Rush – June 2018 ((The Guardian)  https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jun/26/rising-seas-florida-climate-change-elizabeth-rush

[6] Ibid.

Header Image: Photo by Ashley Satanosky on Unsplash

One thought on “What rising sea levels could mean for Miami and South Florida

Add yours

  1. The prospects for flooding resulting from climate change induced sea level rise are frightening. Have a look at globalfloodmap.org to see approx numbers of people that would be affected in different countries.
    Flooding will cause massive refugee problems and destabilisation of many of the political systems worldwide.
    Florida is not the major problem.


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