Before the Flood, South Florida Native Quietly Plans Exit Strategy

I spoke with my friend Robin this week. Robin lives in Miami Shores, a mostly upper-middle class neighborhood located in Miami Dade county. It’s near the causeway that takes you to the beach. Robin was born on Miami Beach, so she’s a South Florida native.

On our call, Robin recounted a conversation she recently had with a friend who lives on Miami Beach. Both had seen Leonardo DiCaprio’s Before the Flood documentary on the National Geographic channel.

A central focus of this documentary was sea level rise and the impact it will have on Miami in the coming decades. The documentary had scared Robin and her friend enough to start thinking about selling their homes and moving to higher ground. For Robin, that higher ground was in Asheville, NC. She told me her home was paid for, and should the real estate market crash due to a mass exodus caused by sea level rise, she could lose the half million dollars her home was currently worth. She didn’t want to be a climate refugee. Robin wanted to know my opinion.

I’d also lived most of my life in South Florida. Although I’d been talking about leaving for much longer, I finally sold my home and made my exodus five years before. Due to rapid population growth and limited natural resources, South Florida is a textbook example of overshoot and what I saw as an inevitable collapse–hastened on by climate change and the already rising sea. And to add the cherry on top of the feeling of impending doom, the geology of South Florida being a porous limestone, makes the coastline indefensible. You can build a sea wall, but the water will still rise up from the ground beneath your feet.

I shared my thoughts with Robin. Across history, sea level rise has been non-linear. Climate impacts have been mostly worse than predicted; feedback loops could amplify these even further. And far before they have an epic flood in their front yards, Robin and her neighbors will have other problems to contend with that will make the southern end of Florida unpleasant to inhabit.

One that should be of concern was salt water intrusion into the drinking water aquifer. You can’t drink salt water. Desalinization is both costly and energy intensive, and probably not feasible to do on such a large scale. Another to consider was the sewer. When I lived in Broward, the number floated around the county climate change task force was 18 inches of sea level rise to inundate the sewer system.

So, in my opinion, Robin was reasonable to start contemplating that her real estate investment (now still a hot commodity) might decline in her lifetime. Yes, I agreed with her. Start downsizing, get the house on the market, and get the exit plan in place now while she was still in control. Robin wasn’t wasting any time. She intended to complete her move in 2017. I’m sure she’s not alone.

And although Robin’s situation is not unique, she is fortunate in that she has resources that allow her to proactively move to higher ground. Around the world, many people will not have that opportunity. We are likely to see massive migrations of climate refugees this century.

And just thinking about that scenario is both tragic and overwhelming. We are past the time to get a price on carbon that will allow us to transition to a new energy economy. But as they say, better late than never.





Global Warning, Our Oil Addiction and Living on a New Planet

Narrated by Leo DiCaprio, this clip is based on the book by Thom Hartmann, The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight: The Fate of the World and What We Can Do Before It’s Too Late.

“Picture this, a blue planet protected by a thin layer of atmosphere that keeps temperature, air and water in perfect balance to maintain life. In the cold depths of space, this planet is a virtual paradise, the only one know of its kind. And, it is our planet, Earth. But something is wrong…human civilization and our relentless consumption has brought this planet to the brink. But specifically, our addiction to one single resource may push us over the edge. And, that resource is Oil.”

“So get educated, stay educated, so we can think for ourselves and join the fight to save this unique blue planet for future generations,” DiCaprio closes. But, this problem of climate change is not really just a problem for future generations. As author Bill McKibben argues in his new book, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, we no longer live on the planet Earth where the climate has allowed human civilization to flourish over the past 10,000 years, but on a new planet with more erratic and extreme weather. McKibben calls the planet Eaarth. We are now living with human-induced climate change. While  hoping we can still return the concentration  of CO2 in our atmosphere to 350ppm (someday because even if we cut emissions to zero, we’ve already committed the planet to further warming), we must focus our efforts to adapt to that change. McKibben suggests lightly, carefully, gracefully with a focus on local systems. activity photo climate day 2009
Image via Wikipedia

We also must engage our political system. We’ve seen no seriousness or urgency out of the Senate as the Clean Energy and Climate Change bill languished. As McKibben writes in the Huffington Post (linked below), “Political time is in short supply, too. So far, of course, Washington has done nothing—the Senate is currently considering a watered-down version of a watered-down bill, one that would only apply to electric utilities and only cause the slowest of changes, and even that has not persuaded President Obama to knock heads. He’ll go after BP, but not the GOP—the bill’s great champion, John Kerry, summed up the prevailing strategy for winning votes: “We believe we have compromised significantly, and we’re prepared to compromise further.” “

We can still bring change through grassroots efforts, like those of, 1Sky and Repower America (links below) and also through the efforts of many individuals calling their Senators to tell them that we need a bill that addresses climate change, carbon pollution and clean energy now. Get educated, stay educated and get active. Your future is now.

Links to Help You Get Active on this Issue:

Where to Find my U.S. Senators Contact Info

Repower America: Together, We Can Solve It


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