Rising seas

Rolling Stone warns that Miami will be under water

 

dsmiley@MiamiHerald.com

On a day when President Obama’s top environmental advisor was in South Florida to express the administration’s commitment to fighting global warming, Rolling Stone published an article that predicted rising seas will turn Miami into an “American Atlantis.”

Goodbye, Miami, which begins with a fictional 2030 hurricane named Milo wiping out South Beach and the Fontainebleau hotel, was posted online Thursday. It paints an apocalyptic picture of South Florida, where coastlines disappear under encroaching water, potable water supply shrinks, and the nuclear power plant at Turkey Point teeters on a meltdown.

Banks stop issuing mortgages. Insurers raise rates. Turf wars erupt on high ground.

“It may be another century before the city is completely underwater (though some more pessimistic scientists predict it could be much sooner),” writes contributing editor Jeff Goodell in the piece, to run in the July 4 issue. “But life in the vibrant metropolis of 5.5 million people will begin to dissolve much quicker, most likely within a few decades. The rising waters will destroy Miami slowly, by seeping into wiring, roads, building foundations and drinking-water supplies — and quickly, by increasing the destructive power of hurricanes.”

Concerns of sea-level rise are not new, nor is the threat news to many South Floridians. But Goodell’s warnings of a watery Armageddon enabled by political ineptitude at the state and federal level generated a buzz Thursday — both supportive and cynical.

“I’m looking forward to having waterfront property in 50 years, because I’m on the bluff right now,” Jack Lowell, senior managing director of Flagler Real Estate Services, said dryly.

Harold Wanless, a University of Miami geology professor quoted by Rolling Stone as saying “Miami as we know it is doomed,” hadn’t read the article Thursday. But he said he was glad Rolling Stone took interest.

“This isn’t something that might happen,” he said. “We’re watching Greenland and the Arctic ice sheet come apart, all of which will lead to accelerated sea level rise. We’re saying maybe it’s a problem for our grandchildren. But it’s a problem for us.”

In December, NOAA’s Climate Program Office said sea levels could rise more than six feet by the turn of the century. And in March, the Miami Herald published flood maps filed in federal court by clean-water advocacy group Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper that predicted two devastating feet of sea rise within 50 years. The maps were created by experts, including Wanless.

Some regions and cities, like Miami Beach, where western sections flood at high tide on sunny days, are trying to address sea rise by investing in sea walls and upgraded stormwater systems. The Fun and Sun Capital of the World has a $200 million plan. In Fort Lauderdale on Thursday, the Sun Sentinel reported that Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, called global warming “the global threat of our time” during a meeting with Broward and Monroe officials.

Miami Beach Commissioner and mayoral candidate Michael Góngora, who is featured in the Rolling Stone article, said the article had “a very pessimistic tone which I personally happen not to agree with.”

“I was told that the article was focusing on cities that are taking action with regard to climate change and that Miami Beach seemed to be the most aggressive in that arena,” he said. “I was hopeful of a more positive tone that talked about everything Miami Beach was doing to avoid gloom and doom. Instead it focused on gloom and doom.”

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