Gaius Publius: Can Miami Beach Survive Global Warming?

Yves here. I also recommend Jay Leonhart’s Goodbye Miami , from 1983, for an early reading.

By Gaius Publius, a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States and frequent contributor to DownWithTyranny, digby, Truthout, and Naked Capitalism. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius, Tumblr and Facebook. This piece first appeared at Down With Tyranny. GP article archive here.

Short film about carbon dioxide, acidification of the oceans, and a request to support a lawsuit that forces the EPA to regulate CO2 under the Toxic Substances Control Act (source)
by Gaius Publius

When this excellent piece came out in Rolling Stone — “Goodbye, Miami” — I studied it carefully with an eye to digesting it for people with less time to read it than I had. Looking at the problem in Miami is a gateway drug to looking at the problem in all of south Florida. But there’s an easier way to see both. This article in Vanity Fair, “Can Miami Beach Survive Global Warming?” looks at just Miami Beach, the high-priced, brand-name town built on the sandbar that fronts the city of Miami itself, and it sees all of the same things.

All of these small “islands” comprise the city of Miami Beach. In the distance, upper left, is the city of Miami on the Florida mainland across the Biscayne Bay. For a map, see here.

Everything that could go wrong in Miami and south Florida can go wrong in Miami Beach, and will likely go wrong there first. Let’s take a quick look via Vanity Fair. As you read, note the following:

  • That the bedrock on which the region sits is porous and permeable to sea water, unlike Manhattan, which sits on granite and marble.
  • That the cost to shore up just this one city’s water, drainage and sewage system is almost half a billion dollars. That’s for Miami Beach alone, not the whole of Miami.
  • That the distance above sea level of most of the land is negligible.
  • That the wealth of the entire city, including residential property, depends on the perceived value of its seafront property.
  • That the residents are optimistic about surviving global warming.

Multiply that multi-million-dollar cost to shore up the drinking and sewer problem by more than ten to get the cost to keep the drinking water salt-free for south Florida:

Construction costs alone will run about $6 billion to desalinate just one-third of the water used for southern Florida.

All of the pieces of the problem are present in just this one microcosm, Miami Beach. From the Vanity Fair article (my emphasis throughout):

Can Miami Beach Survive Global Warming?

In the summer of 2013, one of the leading candidates in Miami Beach’s mayoral race, a businessman named Philip Levine, released a TV commercial that showed him kayaking his way home through traffic in a Paddington hat and a plastic poncho, accompanied by his boxer, Earl, who was kitted out in a life jacket. “In some parts of the world,” Levine said in the spot, “going around the city by boat is pretty cool. Like Venice. But in Miami Beach, when it rains, it floods. That’s got to stop. Because I’m just not sure how much more of this Earl and I can take.”

Miami Beach does indeed have serious water issues. In the hundred years since it was incorporated as a city, it has repeatedly been pummeled by major storms, one of which, the Great Hurricane of 1926, wiped out buildings, tossed ships ashore, and remains, in adjusted dollars, the costliest hurricane in American history. Essentially a long, narrow barrier island, Miami Beach is surrounded by and infused with water. Biscayne Bay (which separates the city from its larger neighbor, Miami) lies to the west, the Atlantic to the east, and a large waterway, Indian Creek, cuts through the city for much of its length.

Compounding the city’s vulnerability to major weather events is the worldwide phenomenon of sea-level rise. Due to thermal expansion of the oceans and the melting of ice sheets and glaciers in the Earth’s far latitudes, the global mean sea level is rising. How fast and how much is a matter of debate, with such federal agencies as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, NASA, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projecting, on the low end, eight inches of sea-level rise by the year 2100, and, on the high end, as much as six feet.

But Miami Beach, a low-lying city to begin with, is already feeling the effects of sea-level rise. Every time there’s a heavy rain, the locals brace for flooding on Alton Road, the main north-south thoroughfare of the city’s west side, as well as on smaller roads in the area, such as Purdy Avenue, where Levine filmed his commercial. The city’s bay side is more susceptible to flooding than its ocean side because it lies lower, less than two feet above sea level in some sections, and was built on cleared swampland that still wants to be what it used to be: a mangrove swamp.

On top of all this, Miami Beach must contend with a fairly new phenomenon that has come to be known locally as sunny-day flooding, in which Alton Road and its neighboring streets are awash in water even when no rain has fallen. This is a consequence of southeast Florida’s geology. Unlike, say, the island of Manhattan, whose bedrock is composed of hard, relatively impermeable marble, granite, and schist, Miami Beach and its neighboring towns sit upon a foundation of porous limestone. When the tides are at or nearing their seasonal highs—the highest, which occur in March and October, are known as king tides—seawater surges inward from the bay and the ocean, bubbling up through the limestone and infiltrating the sewer system. The very drains and gutters built to channel water off the streets function in reverse, becoming the conduits through which water gushes onto the streets.

About the cost to deal with the rising water:

[Mayor] Levine models himself after Michael Bloomberg, New York City’s mayor from 2002 to 2013—as a first-time officeholder whose wealth and outsider status allow him to bypass an entrenched political culture of intransigence and inaction. After he took office, in November of 2013, Levine fast-tracked a program to install electric pumps along Alton Road and other prime flooding spots on the city’s west side so that, during a storm surge or high tide, the pumps can be switched on, suctioning water off the streets and out into Biscayne Bay.

The cost of the program is huge, in the range of $400 million—for perspective, nearly the size of the city’s annual budget. So far, the results have been encouraging. In October of 2014, with just a handful of the 80 or so planned pump stations installed, the streets stayed dry during the season’s king tide, and, this season, the results have been much the same. Still, Levine told me, “We don’t declare victory. It’s one small step in a long war that we know we’re facing.”

Note that they’ve only just started installing the planned 80 pumps. And yet, wealth and optimism dominate the story. Who is Mayor Levine? A “self-made multi-millionaire who earned his fortune in the cruise-ship business.” And he’s leading a Michael Bloomberg-style building boom:

For all the sober talk about grave and ongoing environmental challenges, it is apt that Miami Beach has a self-styled Bloombergian mayor. For, curiously, at the very same time that some climate scientists are questioning whether the city will even survive into the next century, Miami Beach is going through an economic and building boom that evokes nothing so much as Bloomberg-era New York at its most sparkly and flash. In the last 12 months alone, the city has added more than 2,000 hotel rooms, many of them under impressive imprimaturs. Tommy Hilfiger is refurbishing the historic Raleigh hotel, and Ian Schrager has given the 50s-era Seville Beach Hotel a luxury redesign and a new name, Edition Miami Beach.

Which leads to a collision of ideas. Midway through the article, that collision is expressed this way:

Given the sheer amount of money, labor, and faith invested in Miami Beach, you get the sense that this hundredth-birthday boom just might be the one that will stick. But then, there is still the disquieting and unavoidable subject of sea-level rise. How can these two huge, concurrent phenomena, seemingly at odds, be reconciled?

Harold Wanless, chairman of the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Miami and South Florida’s most prominent climate-change doomsayer, was emphatic when I put that question to him: “They can’t be.” The developers, he said, are “building like there’s no tomorrow—and they’re right!”

And the city’s response? The article quotes the mayor on that:

Nevertheless, as a pro-business Bloombergian, Levine sees no cognitive dissonance between fighting the seas and embracing the developers. The construction keeps the economy thriving, and the inflow of real-estate and hotel taxes helps pay for environmental initiatives—not just the pumps but also the city’s plans to elevate 30 percent of Miami Beach’s streets, replenish its oceanside dunes, heighten its existing seawalls, and create new urban greenspaces that will absorb water and carbon dioxide. By Levine’s estimation, these moves are buying Miami Beach 50 years, during which time, he is convinced, scientists will develop ingenious new ways to combat the problem.

“If, 50 years ago, I had shown you an iPhone and an iPad, and how FaceTime works, you would have thought I was insane,” Levine said. “So, 10, 20, 30 years from today, humankind will come up with amazing, innovative ideas that will create an even greater level of resiliency for coastal cities.”

There’s more in the article, but it’s more of the same.

Two Bottom Lines

Miami Beach is an economic collapse waiting to happen. If that house of cards falls, what’s the fate of mainland Miami itself, and south Florida as a region? I’ll leave you to decide. But in a storm-filled area, change can come suddenly. Even if it doesn’t, look just at the cost to maintain drinking water derived from an aquifer that’s porous and open to a rising sea. Six billion dollars is the estimated cost for south Florida, per the Rolling Stone writer. What if that cost doubles? At some point people will simply refuse to pay it, and move instead.

When that starts to happen, when people abandon the area for whatever reason, it’s over down there. We and they are sitting on a powder keg, whether it blows up quickly or slowly.

I have two bottom lines from this. People don’t have to say OMG and freeze. It’s still not too late to act (though that clock is ticking).

One way to act is to use force to create change. One way to use force is to use the courts. RICO and Martin Act investigations and prosecutions of Exxon and other fossil fuel companies count as force. Helping the lawsuit mentioned in the video above also counts as an attempt to use force. From their GoFundMe page (my emphasis):

I am a retired US EPA scientist. Last week the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) denied a petition I filed with the Center for Biological Diversity under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The petition asked EPA to stop ignoring the effects of CO2, which is not only altering our climate in dangerous ways, but is also causing the acidification of the oceans…and that’s killing corals, fish, other marine life and presents a danger to human health.

We have 60 days [ending roughly November 30] to file a civil suit to force EPA to comply with TSCA and regulate CO2. The courts seem like the only avenue available to address these two existential risks before it’s too late. This account is to help pay for that litigation….

By any definitions, carbon dioxide falls under the Toxic Substances Control Act, but the EPA refuses to recognize that. The lawsuit would use the court to force them to reverse course.

Another way to act, this time to educate, is to join the call for a World War II-style mobilization of national resources — to ask the government to stop fiddling, smell the fire, and start putting it out starting now. There’s a pledge and petition at that you can sign and work to implement. At some point, emergency mobilization will be the only choice.


How soon is too soon to put on the brakes? How late is too late to start? We’re not these people yet. Time to help stop the car?

The earlier the nation starts that process, the more it can accomplish. That Thelma-and-Louise moment could come a lot sooner than anyone is saying. Is the time to stop … now? (For more, see the second half of this Virtually Speaking episode, in which digby and I discuss exactly this issue.)

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  1. Ron Con Coma

    On top of all this, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) is being decimated by Governor Scott. It is the District that monitors salt water intrusion into the aquifer, controls local flooding and issues water use permits. The Governor has continually reduced the SFWMD budget, assigned hatchet men to lead it and removed any voices that stand in his way.

    1. different clue

      I remember reading a native Floridian’s comment on a blog once. Enough of the native Floridian Southerners were becoming mildly progressive-ish to the point where they could and did elect a governor like Reuben Askew. It was the huge mass migration of Republicanoid retirees from the North and Midwest and elsewhere which turned Florida into a social and cultural ash tray and created the electorate which could elect scum filth trash garbage like Jebbie-poo Bush and now Scott. Judging from his accent I have to ask . . . was Scott even born in Florida?

      1. Massinissa

        Jeb wasn’t born there. He was born in Texas

        Also, Scott was born in Bloomington Illinois. A red state.

        Too many red state retirees came to Florida and brought red state politicians with them.

  2. James Levy

    What strikes me is this strange idea that if you showed people 50 years ago an iPhone or iPad they’d have thought you crazy. Forty-nine years ago Captain Kirk was talking into a little box and Spock was using a voice interface with his computer. These were already Science Fiction tropes. Changing the climate of the earth to ameliorate the effects of greenhouse gases is an entirely different matter. Lumping the improvement of technologies that already existed 50 years ago (phones, computers, data bases) together with the invention of totally new technologies we haven’t even imaged yet it sadly idiotic. It would be like, in the picture above, driving one’s car off a high cliff in the happy expectation that someone will invent an antigravity device in the interval between when you jumped the cliff and when you hit the ground. It is wishful thinking at its worst.

    1. Mark from California

      Agreed, Mr. Levy. And we can go back further, ref. from “When the sleeper wakes” by H.G. Wells, published 1899:
      “On the flat surface was now a little picture, very vividly coloured, and in this picture were figures that moved. Not only did they move, but they were conversing in clear small voices. It was exactly like reality viewed through an inverted opera glass and heard through a long tube.”
      Essentially a video iPod, predicted well over 100 years ago!.

      1. craazyboy

        The relevant technology for global warming was predicted by Wells in Time Machine…..

        Happily, South Beach is a nude beach, so existing tech is good for another 20 years, I would think.

    2. hemeantwell

      Yeah, the difference between wholesale climate change denial and technological triumphalism can disappear on the right side of the graph.

      It also seems like another form of innovation that we’ll see will be a vast expansion under neoliberalism of social responsibility for preserving private investment value. The part about the (utterly foolish) investment splurge = moral hazard with sunblock. While fun is made of Chinese ghost cities, at least they’re not built in tidal pools.

    3. reslez

      Indeed, people 50 years ago would demand to know where our flying cars and lunar colonies are located. Graeber covered this territory well — “Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit”. The sad thing is people today honestly believe we are living in the technological wonderland predicted in golden age SF, not realizing how their dreams have shrunk to the size of a tiny 5″ screen.

      1. susan the other

        The newest frontier. Sea level rise. If money is no object, no sweat. Florida can declare itself a sovereign state which the Federal Gov will like because who wants take responsibility for saving a sand bar as big as Florida? Then they can credit themselves the required funds to shore up all those listing high rise hotels, build state of the art bilge pumps for runoff and sewage, nevermind that it all comes right back in… they can monitor the entire landscape for imminent sink holes and pump in lotsa cement as necessary, they can devise desalination filters for every piece of real estate and every public fountain, they can build high water chair lifts to access all points blocked by the water, and etc. Then Florida can send its diplomats to all the big cities in the US that barge their garbage out to the deeps of the oceans and threaten serious lawsuits if they don’t stop because a shallowed ocean floods the land. And betcha after all that heroic effort people just say screw it, it’s a big hassle, I’m leaving.

        1. different clue

          You can do anything with MMT. Since the power of a Monetarily Sovereign Issuer to issue money is infinite, the amount of money that issuer can issue is infinite. Which would enable such a self-awarefully MMT-based Monetary Sovereign to command and deploy infinite wealth to go with the infinite money. Such is the power of MMT.

          And they can use all that infinite wealth keeping out the rising sea forever and ever. Intinitely. And when the sun gets set to go nova, they can issue the money to escape that too.

    4. different clue

      Some eco-tech approaches already exist. They just need fanatically intense rollout and deployment. They are all versions on the theme of soil bio-recarbonization. Terra Preta black earth, biochar, restoring multi-species grass and forb growth on millions of square miles of land and letting that growth power the downsuckage of CO2 from the air, turning that CO2 into sugars and sweating those sugars out through the roots into the soil around the roots for soil life to turn those sugars into persistent glomalin—> humus, etc. Wetland reflooding/peat rebuilding, etc.

      1. susan the other

        Or Florida could become the new dump. I know that’s not the desired image, but wait. Florida could import ALL the garbage from the continental USA. Even dredge some of it back up out of the ocean. And begin to build up the land in great massive piles. Add the required plastic eating bacteria, some boulders and some starter soil and then plant some forbs. Build some very big altitude (just think of all the garbage that will flock to Florida!).

        1. different clue

          They could hire Chinese island-building contractors to do it for them. Especially if they seccede and become Monetarily Sovereign masters of their own money issuance.

        2. Ron Con Coma

          Hey, if Seattle could do it at the end of the 19th century, then we Floridians could do it now. The Donald will be able to remake his real estate fortune by selling Florida Underground tickets to Mar-a-Lago!

  3. blert

    The only ice melt that can affect the global sea level is ice that is on land.

    This leaves out the Arctic ice cap. It’s a floater.

    The super massive Ross ice shelf is also a floater.

    The global ocean is so big that the only locations left with sigificant ice are Antarctica and Greenland. The norther latitudes also have a lot of ice on land — but it’s seasonal — thin enough to entirely melt every year.

    Way up the mountainside, substantial amounts of ice — permanent ice — exist. But the laws of physics indicate that they are so high that they can’t be a factor until temperatures really move up. Even a warmer Earth will still have cool temperatures at high altitude.

    One must conclude that the oceans would creep up so slowly that the buildings would wear out or be destroyed by a hurricane long before they got ‘wet feet.’

    Even so, it’s astonishing that further construction is permitted on a barrier island whatsoever.

    Everything built should be excluded from Federal weather ‘relief.’ The general public // taxpayers should not be shouldering the risk, the folly.

    1. Jeff

      Well, you are awfully wrong.
      To quote the conclusion:

      That answers the question. Yes, tide alone is sufficient to cause flooding in Boston, even without storm surge or precipitation.

      That is what Climate Change has already wrought in Boston.

      1. optimader

        1.) A assume your link goes to the implication of warmer weather cultivating more severe weather/ intense hurricanes that will work their way further north on the east coast? Disregarding gradual sea level increases, Eastern Seaboard coastal cities will be exposed to more frequent and severe storm surges. I think that’s baked into the evolving weather patterns

        2.) Not that I personally would miss Miami, but likely the people that live there will, and it is an interesting engineering challenge. The fact is , it’s not like the Dutch haven’t been working on solutions that could be applied to coastal cites for what? the past 1,100years or so. I think its more an issue of will and allocation of resources. UN fortunately we are still more interested it seems in blowing other places up than investing in our coastlines, where I believe the majority of the US population still reside?

    2. Daniel Katzman

      We must consider the likelihood that the post from blert is an example of paid propaganda from the $200M+ a year that the large energy companies and their owners are putting into falsifying the debate on global warming.

      1. ambrit

        Yes that, but some of his or her points do deserve ‘knocking down’ if only to expose ‘biased’ argumentation. This is likely the class of argument that will be bought up in public debates over various issues. It’s better to get the counter narrative figured out now, rather than scramble to react to an attack of this nature later on. Fore warned is fore armed.

        1. different clue

          I personally would also challenge such people to put their money where their mouths are by investing all the money they have or can borrow in beachfront and near-sea-level investment properties. Show you mean it. Invest in seacoastal resort-based REITs.

      2. optimader

        Because someone is either wrong or at least you don’t agree doesn’t mean they are paid.

        Blert (and Archimedes) are correct as far as it goes relative to floating sea ice vs land ice, the former does not directly change the sealevel based on state (liquid or solid).
        What blert does not go on to say is that melting sea ice affects solar radiation reflection vs absorption (think emissivity) and is a forcing agent Ice-albedo feedback.

        Another significant issue with “sea ice is that, for example, the Pine Island Glacier which is a cantilievered off the Antarctic coast and grounded on the ocean bottom for the moment. It’s significance is that it acts as a keystone to a very large landed Antarctic ice sheet. When PIG cuts loose we will have dramatic landed glacier ice moving into the water with consequential sea level increase.

        Weak underbelly of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet[edit]

        The Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers are two of Antarctica’s five largest ice streams. Scientists have found that the flow of these ice streams has accelerated in recent years, and suggested that if they were to melt, global sea levels would rise by 1 to 2 m (3 ft 3 in to 6 ft 7 in), destabilising the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet and perhaps sections of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet.[11]

        In 1981 Terry Hughes proposed that the region around Pine Island Bay may be a “weak underbelly” of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.[12] This is based on the fact that, unlike the majority of the large West Antarctic ice streams, those flowing into the Amundsen Sea are not protected from the ocean by large floating ice shelves. Also, although the surface of the glacier is above sea level, the base lies below sea level and slopes downward inland, this suggests that there is no geological barrier to stop a retreat of the ice once it has started.[12]

        Acceleration and thinning[edit]

        The speed of Pine Island Glacier increased by 73 percent from 1974 to the end of 2007, with an 8 percent increase over the last 16 months of this period alone. This speed up has meant that by the end of 2007 the Pine Island Glacier system had a negative mass balance of 46 gigatonnes per year,[7] which is equivalent to 0.13 mm (0.0051 in) per year global sea level rise.[13] In other words, much more water was being put into the sea by PIG than was being replaced by snowfall. Measurements along the centre of the ice stream by GPS demonstrated that this acceleration is still high nearly 200 km (120 mi) inland, at around 4 percent over 2007.[14] It has been suggested that this recent acceleration could have been triggered by warm ocean waters at the end of PIG, where it has a floating section (ice shelf) approximately 50 km (31 mi) long.[4][5][15] It has also been shown that PIG underwent rapid thinning during the Holocene, and that this process may continue for centuries after it is initiated.[16]

        As the ice stream accelerates it is also getting steeper.[14] The rate of thinning within the central trunk has quadrupled from 1995 to 2006.[14][17] If the current rate of acceleration were to continue the main trunk of the glacier could be afloat within 100 years.[17]

        1. blert

          “100 Years …”


          The melting will take long enough for the buildings to be ruined by hurricanes, first.

          That the authorities are allowing foolish commercial and residential development atop barrier islands is pretty insane right off.

    3. ambrit

      After the bath the Feds took in flood claims involving Hurricane Katrina, the Powers have begun a ‘stealth’ campaign to depopulate the American Littoral. Tightening building codes in the flood plains, through Federal ‘incentives’ to the state, county and parish code writing apparatus, has begun a ‘gentrification’ of the flood prone regions. The fights over the diminishment and outright disassembling of the government backed Flood Insurance program are intense and being fought out at the State level. It’s a case of who ends up ‘holding the bag.’
      I grew up on Miami Beach, and have heard tales of the King Tides from those who lived there until recently. The ocean is always a short bus ride away there. I used to ride my bicycle to the beach. I find nothing untoward in the Beach coming to me.
      The recent geologic record shows that, after the last glacial period, the sea level had several sudden rises of significant amounts. Similar to the biological theory of “Punctuated Equilibrium,” it admits that quick outflows of fresh water from land based sources created ‘catastrophic’ and quick sea level rises. Then ‘stasis’ takes over for another while. Thus, if, for an example, an earthquake released the waters of Lake Vostock beneath the Antarctic ice pack suddenly into the ocean, Miami Beach wouldn’t have a problem; it would have a disaster on its’ hands.
      Finally, as to the barrier island construction issue, a little Miami Beach history is in order.
      There once was a condominium developer named Turchin. He specialized, in his later career, in ugly giant boxes laughingly called “Luxury Condominiums.” His company built many of these boxes, rising to the Tropic Sun like unholy fungi. One memorable effort was the Tower 41 on 41st Street and Indian Creek. A beautiful site, cheek by jowl with older styled mansions and one of the old Beaches nicer shopping districts. Come west over the Indian Creek bridge on 41st Street from the Beach proper, (Hotel Row.) A bare wall several stories high borders the street. A squared off ‘dwelling place’ some twenty odd stories rises on the edge of the waterway. All the locals hated it. The City tried to zone it away. Turchin went to court and pettifogged his way to more millions. The moral of the story is that greed and arrogance will always fight against ‘common sense’ and a livable place for the people.
      Turchins’ sons have evidently ‘seen the light.’ They now are developing a luxury community in the North Carolina Appalachian Mountains. The Turchins of this world take the money and run. The ‘ordinary’ people get to suffer the consequences.

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        After the city of Miami Beach, AND Miami, go under, the Turchin boys will probably hang RE shingles saying “Future Beach Front” on what ever Appalachian luxury community they are moving at the time without missing a beat.

        1. ambrit

          Yeah, go figure.
          To give an idea how ‘bloody minded’ the elder Turchin was; one of his sons was “kidnapped” for ransom. (The locals considered the entire ‘kidnapping’ to be a probable inside job.) The elder Turchin refused to pay.
          In trying to find some links for this anecdote I came across what looks to be a professionally done sanitization of the Turchin family and history online. I find no Wiki biographies for any of the family. No links to any Turchin legal cases and no reports on family legal disputes.
          Somewhere out there lurks an industrial sized “Memory Hole” available to those who can afford to employ it.

    4. Jason

      And the denialist campaign bus makes a stop to let “Sea level rise predictions are exaggerated” get off and make a little speech. It’s very cute how you handwave the Antarctic and Greenland ice caps, which hold enough (land-bound) ice to raise the sea level by over ninety meters were they to fully melt.

      1. blert

        Those impressive bodies are trite compared to the continental ice sheets that melted way back when. They were MILES high and reached down south of the 47th latitude… everywhere, just about.

        They melted and the consensus is that sea levels rose one hundred to one hundred and fifty meters.

        So your math seems way off…. way, way, way off.

        The deal with the high mountains and Greenland is that they can’t melt until the very end. They’ll be the last to go. They are not in prospect to do anything for at least the next century.

        At which time, everyone now living will be dead.

        Our great-great-great grandchildren will have to deal with it.

        You do realize that the gobal partial pressure of carbon dioxide is at near all time lows on the geological time scale. It’s almost ALWAYS been higher — much, much, much higher, in fact.

        Otherwise plant life could not lay down the immense coal beds.

        Otherwise shell fish could not lay down the hyper-immense limestone beds. It is obvious that shell fish absorbed more carbon dioxide than the flora. Most of Europe sits atop a staggering limestone and marble deposit. This extends from the Atlantic to the Urals… mostly. It’s spectacularly exposed at Dover.

        And as the OP mentioned, Florida sits atop a massive limestone deposit. It extends all down through Mexico and points south — and off to Kansas.

        All of the deposition came out of the atmosphere.

        Shell fish haven’t changed that much, nor have ferns. Heh.

        1. ambrit

          I’m sympathetic, but there was this event back around 11,000 BC that lines up with all sorts of catastrophic occurrences. Mega fauna went extinct, sea levels rose meters in a few years, perhaps in months, the Carolina Bays were produced, a distinct shift in the pre history of people in North America happened, the Younger Dryas climate event happened, etc. etc.
          Scientific American is on the case:

          If my reading serves me aright, the global temperatures were much higher during the Ages of the Dinosauria. Then, one day, that asteroid hit. Yep, one day was all it took. Chance has a much larger influence upon terrestrial evolution than the most estimable scientists will admit.

          1. blert

            Interestingly enough that thesis has been intensely investigated.

            The consensus is that no-one can find any evidence to back it up… And they tried very, very hard.


            One of the confabs was put to video:



            So, the issue is still pretty active.

    5. afisher

      Interesting or humorously, read the words again and readers here will see that they are carefully chosen words that are used to deflect the conversation.

      The presence of the shelves acts as “brakes” for the glaciers. These shelves serve another important purpose — “they moderate the amount of melting that occurs on the glaciers’ surfaces. Once their ice shelves are removed, the glaciers increase in speed due to meltwater percolation and/or a reduction of braking forces, and they may begin to dump more ice into the ocean than they gather as snow in their catchments. Glacier ice speed increases are already observed in Peninsula areas where ice shelves disintegrated in prior years.

      These shelves do calve – they won’t impact the ocean level (per claimant) , but please do ignore that the backed up melting ice behind them that does!

    6. optimader

      Even so, it’s astonishing that further construction is permitted on a barrier island whatsoever.

      Everything built should be excluded from Federal weather ‘relief.’ The general public // taxpayers should not be shouldering the risk, the folly.

      I agree with the later part of this. I f someone wants to risk their own treasure, that’s fine, just don’t expect any unwilling “partner” to subsidize it- whether that be though taxes or insurance premiums.

    7. Vatch

      Way up the mountainside, substantial amounts of ice — permanent ice — exist. But the laws of physics indicate that they are so high that they can’t be a factor until temperatures really move up. Even a warmer Earth will still have cool temperatures at high altitude.

      That ice has been melting over the past century or so. For a good summary of the situation, do a Wikipedia search for:

      Retreat of glaciers since 1850

      That melted ice ends up in the oceans, and contributes to sea level rise. Yes, it’s true that Greenland and Antarctica have a lot more ice than the mountain glaciers, but every little bit hurts.

  4. wbgonne

    I posed this question once before here at NC and it went over like a lead balloon. But I’ll give it another shot. I agree that pressure must be brought to bear across the board and that definitely includes economically. The article discusses the building frenzy in Miami Beach. To me, that construction seems like economic insanity. Clearly, however, the money is still pouring in to finance it. Why? Who is going to get stuck holding the bag when Miami Beach is inundated once and for all?

    1. weinerdog43

      “…Who is going to get stuck holding the bag when Miami Beach is inundated once and for all?…”

      Why, the Koch Bros. of course. We know that they are generous to a fault and always support the greater public good. They’ll be proactively writing checks any minute now. I’m sure the Club for Growth will also chip in big time. They’ll make sure this gets top priority in any new republican administration.

      Don’t worry…. Rubio’s GOT THIS.

      1. wbgonne

        Your critique of the Republcans is valid. Unfortunately, the Democrats are not meaningfully better, as proven by Obama’s presidency.

        1. weinerdog43


          While Obama has been an enormous disappointment and in my opinion, a terrible failure, this is not a case of ‘both sides do it’. One side is bad, the other is bat shit insane.

    2. Portia

      Time is of the essence, as you say…

      To squeeze every last dime out of Miami Beach before it is engulfed. That is what I make of the current frenzy. The Parasite sees the host going under.

      1. wbgonne

        Fair enough. But a lot of wealth is going to be destroyed. Who takes the losses? That is my question.

        1. greenerpastures

          As a native, a lot of new construction clearly targeted towards luxury buyers – the global elite who can pay for the thrill of a deck chair on the Titanic as it’s going down and able to chuckle and write it off as their private helicopter scoops them off. or, the poor suckers who aren’t quite wealthy enough for that but are seduced by the lifestyle. So I would guess as per usual, those “less sophisticated investors”. And say nothing about how the developers finance Levine and his ilk, or how he will brag about the service jobs created that will go up in smoke

        2. Portia

          I think these people are in a game to be the one not holding the bag when it all collapses. These are not sane people. In the meantime, it’s an adrenaline rush to keep it all going using any trick they can think of. So in the past it has been the insurance company or taxpayer who absorbs, if anyone pays at all. I have seen so much abandoned property, it could make one weep.

        3. EmilianoZ

          We do, of course. After 2008 it should be obvious to anybody that the public at large is on the hook for any large bet taken by any private entity. That’s the meaning of neoliberalism for the little people.

    3. washunate

      This seems to be the relevant question. Areas like South Florida exemplify everything that’s wrong with our system, from bad real estate development policies to unsustainable concentration of wealth and power.

      Yet many educated people, even those proclaiming to hold a left of center view, have supported the basic public policies that created places like Miami Beach over the years, such as gutting progressive income taxation and supporting asset prices.

      1. weinerdog43

        Well, sort of. The primary driver of the Florida economy has been and will be real estate. Income taxation had nothing to do with the creation of Miami Beach. Artificially subsidized real estate taxes and building incentives created this sort of mess. There is a reason most of the large property/casualty insurers have abandoned Florida beachfront. When the inevitable occurs (see article above), it won’t be the poor folks looking for most of the largesse.

        Should Miami Beach get the same level of help that New Orleans received after Katrina?

        1. washunate

          I’m curious where you disagree? Real estate development policies are exactly what I’m calling out. It is one of those areas where Democrats at all levels of government – national, state, and local – are hard to distinguish from Republicans. Try suggesting that the home mortgage interest tax deduction is bad or that the USFG shouldn’t have bailed out the private debts of Fannie and Freddie or that the Fed shouldn’t be buying securities and quite a few intellectuals of all persuasions will take issue (or the interesting corollary – will be notably silent on such matters).

          Are you suggesting that concentration of wealth and power is not related to this? If we had spent the past few decades taxing the wealthy instead of giving them even more money, then a lot of the bad development of the past few decades wouldn’t have happened in the first place. Inequality is the root cause of why we have reached a point that places like Miami Beach – in the long term – are not survivable in their present form.

          Either society will reduce the consumption levels of the rich through political means, or the Earth will through climatic ones. Either way, at a conceptual level, the ultimate outcome is actually pretty similar. Coastal settlements with lots of wealth will not survive as we know them today. Maintaining such high levels of inequailty and preventing sea level rises are mutually exclusive outcomes. The latter requires a level of good governance and social norms and customs rendered impossible by the former.

    4. Brooklin Bridge

      Some time back, after Sandy, there was an article on NC – I think related to your question – about the incredible cost of insurance for beach front property. I imagine that extends to most beach front in the US now and not simply that in the N.E. And if that’s the case, the answer for Miami Beach is -oh the cruelty- the affluent at a minimum and probably the rich. It’s hard to imagine the average wage earner being able to hold on. So on one level, it’s the rich who pay. Yet while while they likely have to bite the bullet on insurance, they make up for some of that by use of city funds to protect their assets; re-sand beaches, build storm walls, etc., way beyond the point where it makes sense, and those funds come by in large from the poor side of town.

      1. sharonsj

        Since politicians kowtow to the rich, it’s already happening where they allot taxpayer money to protect the beach real estate of the wealthy and not that of the lower classes. If the media never points this out, most people have no idea they are being doubly screwed.

      2. wbgonne

        My question is who will take the losses from global warming sea-level rise:

        the answer for Miami Beach is -oh the cruelty- the affluent at a minimum and probably the rich

        Which makes sense since this is expensive real estate that is only affordable to the wealthy. OK. My reason for posing the question is to see if there are economic weak points that can be leveraged to compel recognition of and action against global warming. But if this is simply a matter of individual rich people losing some coastal real estate assets then it’s hard to envision any such mechanism. One idea is to short municipal bonds for Miami Beach (notwithstanding the current mayor’s faith in deus ex machina), but I’ve learned that is infeasible and might not change behavior anyway, just allow one to profit when the collapse occurs. I guess I’m thinking along the lines of what the bond vilgilantes and other market manipulators can do, namely inflict economic punishment to alter behavior. Perhaps the divestment campaign is as close as we can get. Since I am (quite obviously) not an economist or a finance person my imagination fails. Maybe there is nothing to be done.

    5. Ron Con Coma

      It is your pension plan that will get stuck holding the bag. They are the ones buying the CMBS and MBS. Don’t you ever read NC?

  5. Brooklin Bridge

    I wonder if the city of Miami Beach is large enough and could be made exclusive enough, even just cosmetically, to get 100% of the .1% to move there? Not for long now, just a liiiittle longer.

    After all, these are the adults in the room. These are the American global corporate individuals. The movers. The smart people. The ones who deserve stratospheric bonuses with no conceivable relation to merit and only an obvious one to deriving pleasure from others immiseration. Given how obviously wonderful they are, they would be perfect for an object lesson for the rest of the world illustrating that global warming doesn’t exist and that every one is in a kurfuffle over nothing. We might even provide them with a nuclear reactor of their own (Hey, I know, just like at Fukushima) to show just how safe “the latest technology” is.

    And if, heaven forbid, they did go under; or light up briefly like the sun, they could provide an object lesson of another sort and we would enshrine them forever in stories told late at night.

    1. ambrit

      Miami Dade does indeed have its’ own nuclear power plant; the aptly named Turkey Point. The manatees like to winter over in the balmy waters of the plants cooling water outflow canal.
      Before she moved north to the Palm Beach area, my mom described South Beach as “a new Sodom and Gomorrah.” We all know what happened to them, don’t we.
      I’ve often read of South Beach as ‘Gay Friendly.’ Sort of, because you’d better be Gay and Rich to stay there. The only poor Gays I saw there the last time I visited were the Nasty Chickens and the Midnight Cowboys. It was a lot like the old French Quarter scene. Chicken Hawks cruising for fresh young meat to satiate their carnal needs. Mikonos it’s not, was the way I heard it described by a world weary aesthete.
      Happy building!

    2. Ulysses

      Awesome comment! Warren Buffet just recently purchased his own Greek island, perhaps those remaining kleptocrats who don’t relocate to Miami Beach could be induced to crash at his place?

    3. tejanojim

      They already have one. Turkey Point nuclear power facility is discussed in the Rolling Stone article. Anyway, nuke plants can’t explode like atom bombs, you get a fire, maybe a hydrogen explosion to crack the containment vessel, and then a nasty smoke plume/water leak for the next… ever.

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        Right, that occurred to me too late to correct with the edit feature and I still can’t quite come up with a good replacement; a radiation glow, etc.

        1. ambrit

          How about the manatees mutate into real Mermaids.
          “Gather round young ones and listen to my tale of the giants that strode the Earth in the Long Ago. The Gods themselves came down from “Orions’ Beltway” to disport themselves by the shore. Have patience, this all leads up to what you clamoured for; How the Sea Maids Came To Be. First though, a lesson about Florida and its’ Turkeys. You in the back! Wake up! I’m teaching History here, not Mushroom Tales. To return to my story…”

          1. Brooklin Bridge

            :-) Your version has that, je ne sais quoi…., a distinct improvement on my, je ne sais rien

            1. ambrit

              Both are sides of the same coin compadre. As a contractor, you’ve been there and seen or done that.
              Somehow I equate that ‘glow’ you hypothesize with the glow from Big Boss Man lighting up a Habana Habana using a ten dollar bill as lighter.
              The Venice of the South idea won’t fly because the buildings along the Atlantic Seaboard generally are exposed directly to the sea. If I remember correctly, the Italian Venice has barrier islands, or at least shoals between it and the true sea. One of the big things about barrier islands is their propensity to move around. Since the Beach has pretty much zoned houseboats out of existence, there’s not much left for that “Litoral Lifestyle.” One good hurricane after the inundation and many of the high rise buildings would be undermined and fall over. Then it would be a lot like Monty Pythons “Crimson Permanent Assurance.” “Avast there! Steer for that mid rise condo to port!”

  6. Gaianne

    The idea that we can stop climate change is as ludicrous as the idea that if we deny it is happening then it isn’t.

    Lady Macbeth: What’s done cannot be undone.

    That is as true for us as for her.

    What is possible is mitigation: Through energy conservation we could reduce the amount of carbon dioxide we are putting into the air, and thus reduce the force we are applying to change the climate.

    This goes against the grain of our economic system and our economic ideology and thus will never happen while our economy exists. You can forget mass movements. The one thing you can do is ignore economic ideas and reduce your own energy usage. Then persuade your friends and neighbors to do the same. That will actually help.

    Meanwhile: Forget Miami–or enjoy it while you can!

    “Down below the Ocean
    Where I want to be, she may be!

    Hail Atlantis!”


  7. ekstase

    There is a sort of metaphor here with what has been prized real estate losing its value. Some kind of turning of the tables is underway, almost as if Earth can only tolerate a certain amount of arrogance. Whatever else happens, the idea that we can just keep taking things is over; or that the best people are the ones who stole the most. We can do better than this, and now we must.

  8. Synoia

    Really poor analysis. There is a single set of failure points for every coastal area..

    Sewage or Sanitation Plants.

    Hard to impossible to relocate, its hard to reconnect all the sewers, and absolutely necessary for the city to survive.

    As goes Miami so goes every coastal area.

    Move inland people. I suggest over 150 above mean sea level, and preferable over 300 ft, and learn to be as self sufficient as possible.

    1. ambrit

      The rich boys and girls with their gated communities in the Appalachian Mountains seem to have gotten the memo. I can’t say the same for our elected officials. Does anyone know of any ‘official’ relocation program extant? Every time I bring up the idea of planning a big series of satellite communities to take in the coastal refugees around here, I get laughed at.

  9. ewmayer

    Still, Levine told me, “We don’t declare victory. It’s one small step in a long war that we know we’re facing.”

    Actually, the more apt military metaphor here is that this is one small rearguard action in a long retreat inland which Miamians are facing. The LOL-worthy reference to iPhone-style innovations pointing to a not-too-distant-future maguc techno-bullet fix for climate change is the Hitlerian ‘Wunderwaffen to turn the tide of the war’ delusion.

  10. NotSoSure

    I really like this quote: “If, 50 years ago, I had shown you an iPhone and an iPad, and how FaceTime works, you would have thought I was insane,”

    So basically he’s saying that 50 years from now we will find a cure for irresponsibility.

    Next we might as well drop a black hole towards the earth’s core. That should bring out extreme human ingenuity, eh?

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