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.





Al Gore and Political Will in the Concrete Forest

As I descended off I-95 into the concrete forest that now covers the city of Miami, I pondered the artificial shade. Darkness permeated while the sun rested high in the sky.

Al Gore at Miami Book Fair Construction raged on even in the early morning hours of Saturday. As the construction workers labored, the homeless slept. The forest was still, despite the jack hammer vibration penetrating the silence.

I looked upward at the pervasive high-rises that the city touts have surpassed 60% occupancy, although that is not obvious from appearance. Too bad that Miami can’t house some of its homeless in these buildings. It would be good public relations for the city, not like the messy shantytown farther up the road.

But that would never happen in the concrete forest. Here, corruption and bad political decisions spread like the invasive melaleuca trees that swallow the Everglades to the west.

It is amidst this concrete forest, I had come to the Miami Book Fair to see former VP, Al Gore promote his book, Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis(Rodale Books, $26.99).

Gore’s presentation was articulate, engaging and funny. He discussed the more than thirty summits he’s convened around the world, bringing together the eminent voices of climate change science. The good news, Gore told us, is that we have everything we need right now to solve the climate crisis. In his book he outlines some of the solutions from renewable energy to CCS to soil initiatives. We have everything we need, except perhaps ‘political will’. Gore closed his presentation with his classic line, “ but political will is a renewable resource”. Al Gore at Miami Book Fair

As I held that thought in my head, I wanted to ask him about this line he’s been using since before the film, An Inconvenient Truth,  “political will is a renewable resource”. We all lived that. Last November we had a historic election. We voted in unprecedented numbers for change.

We changed our political leadership but climate change still sits on the backburner in the Senate. The US with 5% of the world’s population still produces the majority of the total greenhouse gas emissions. There are some figures that show China- who now holds almost all of our manufacturing jobs- dumped more heat trapping gases into the planet’s atmosphere in 2009. Although looked at on a per capita basis, the USA still holds the award for world’s largest polluter.

We know the historic legislation, H254: American Clean Energy and Security Act, passed by the House this summer doesn’t adequately addresses the severity of this crisis we are facing.

Al Gore at Miami Book Fair “We need to go quickly and together,” Gore said. Yes, as we approach December’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen the world’s population agrees, but does the US government? And, how do we get there with the democratic leadership we have? That is the question I wanted answered. Surely, Gore must have some opinion.

But, before I got a chance to ask him, his publishers had me pulled out of the book signing line because I was holding a DVD of An Inconvenient Truth. The line was only for people who purchased copies of their book, Our Choice.

Thus, I am left with my unanswered question and a few photo souvenirs.

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