Miami’s (climate change) Models
What’s the impact of climate change on the city of Miami? Will the city even exist in 100 years?
What would Miami look with rising sea levels?
Would you move to a city that could be partially submerged by rising sea levels in the next 50 years? Miami is already experiencing early signs of what life with rising sea levels could entail; residents refer to “sunlight floods” where water floods blocks by coming from under the streets through the porous limestone that makes up street cement. The city needs to address rising sea levels because it has the potential to be the single largest destruction of wealth the city could ever face; analysts at The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predict sea levels will rise as much as three feet in Miami by 2060.1 Swiss Re estimates that a 3 foot rise in sea level in Miami will result in a $145 billion loss and destroy 300,000 homes.2 At 6 feet, Zillow estimates that the losses could exceed $400 billion and destroy over 900,000 homes.3
The city of Miami has taken some measures to address the impact of rising sea levels due to climate change. While basic, the city’s acknowledgment of climate change itself represents a break in policy from the state of Florida. Although the governor of Florida hasn’t yet acknowledged climate change, Miami’s mayor, Philip Levine, points to his acknowledgment as a factor that helped get him elected. The city has also launched a $400 million fund to address infrastructure projects including the construction of 80 water pump stations throughout the city to pump water out of the streets back into the ocean and an initiative to re-build roads at a higher level. In total, 21 city blocks will be raised above sea level.4
What if sea levels rise fewer than 3 feet?
While these short-term measures might help incrementally, more substantive efforts will need to be instated. Jim Carson, mayor of neighboring city Coral Gables, is concerned cities along the coast will have to deal with these issues far before sea levels rise materially. There are thousands of boats that have to go under bridges to pass from the inlet they are stored in to the ocean; when these boats’ masts start hitting the bottom of bridges because of rising sea levels, this could be a potential trigger event for declining real estate prices in the area. He says, “When the boats can’t go out, the property values go down.” As fewer people want these properties, banks could stop writing longer-term mortgages for these homes by the water, further depressing the real estate market and sending prices even lower. Miami faces a similar problem. As the city has no state tax, Miami relies on real estate taxes and as the tax base shrinks, the city will not have the money to provide the local services that make them desirable. Furthermore, the city will not have enough money for the $400 million infrastructure fund. This could all happen before a single home is submerged; in fact, residents are already selling homes to lock in value.
The city needs to put more safeguards in place to encourage property owners to hold onto their properties. The clearest way they can do this is by articulating a plan that demonstrates they are building the necessary infrastructure to protect property values and then execute this plan. They should partner with other cities that are facing similar challenges to identify the most effective ways to counter rising sea levels and then band together to force the federal government to provide climate change support. Recently, an Obama directive that required the federal government to account for sea level rise when building highways and floodwalls, among other things, was recently rejected by President Trump saying that it “needlessly hurt housing affordability.”6 Without local, state, and federal governments working together, we put these coastal cities at risk. Finally, city officials acknowledge that the current measures are stop-gap solutions. But Miami needs to enact these short-term measures to buy themselves another 50 years and hope that breakthroughs in science will provide more long-term solutions.
Miami risks billions of dollars of real estate being worthless if it does not act soon. Freddie Mac’s chief economist warns that a housing crisis in coastal areas could be even worse than the Great Recession because, unlike the recession, there would be no hope of a recovery in property values. 7 One must ask: will the city be able to encourage residents to stay in the city (so Miami can collect tax revenue) while all this is happening? Finally, assuming the different levels of government can work together, will these short-term solutions actually buy them enough time for a longer-term solution?
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1Sweet, William, “Global and Regional Sea Level Rise Scenarios for the United States,” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, January 2017, https://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/publications/techrpt83_Global_and_Regional_SLR_Scenarios_for_the_US_final.pdf, accessed November 2017
2”Cost of Climate Change,” VICE on HBO, February 22 2017, https://video.vice.com/en_us/video/hbo-assad-syria-climate-change-cost/58ac53d2d081c04e5f9e37b0, accessed November 2017
3Krishna Rao, “Climate Change and Housing: Will a Rising Tide Sink All Homes?” Zillow Forecasting Trends, June 2, 2017, https://www.zillow.com/research/climate-change-underwater-homes-12890/, accessed November 2017
4Allen, Greg, “As Waters Rise, Miami Beach Builds Higher Streets And Political Willpower,” NPR, May 10,2016, https://www.npr.org/2016/05/10/476071206/as-waters-rise-miami-beach-builds-higher-streets-and-political-willpower, accessed November 2017
5“Bailing out Miami,” Vice News, March 5, 2017, https://news.vice.com/story/how-the-miami-real-estate-market-is-benefitting-from-rising-sea-levels, accessed November 2017
6Leavenworth, Stuart, “Real estate industry blocks sea-level warnings that could crimp profits on coastal properties,” Miami Herald, Sept 13, 2017, http://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/article173114701.html, accessed November 2017
7“Life’s a Beach,” Freddie Mac Insight, April 26, 2016, http://www.freddiemac.com/research/insight/20160426_lifes_a_beach.html, accessed November 2017
Student comments on Miami’s (climate change) Models
Hi Sharat, I enjoyed your article. Miami is certainly near the top of the list of cities being impacted by climate change. There’s so much to be said about potential solutions, but rarely any action. Another consequence of climate change that is gaining attention is “climate gentrification.” There is growing concern about rising sea levels placing a premium on higher elevation properties. This is particularly relevant in Miami, where low-income residents are beginning to be priced out of their inland neighborhoods. You can read reports of developers pressuring residents to move. These are people who are already struggling to make ends meet, some who historically were pushed out of coastal properties to make room for rising real estate. A prime example of this is in Little Haiti where low-income, predominately minority peoples, are being displaced by rising property values. To me there appears to be a disproportionate amount of information concerning the detrimental impacts of climate change and very little information about solutions and action.
Sharat, I like the tactical solutions of water pump stations and rebuilt roads in order to address the issue of rising sea levels. On a broader strategic level, Miami and other coastal areas should continue pressuring the federal and state governments to acknowledge climate change and to provide funding for these tactical solutions. Ultimately, Miami’s impact to prevent or mitigate climate change is small. Joint actions by other cities, states, and the US to prevent climate change will be much more impactful and less expensive.
Unfortunately, joint actions have been too small to date. Other parts of the world are already dealing with lost homelands due to rising sea levels. Hopefully, more and more of these similar stories can start spurring people to action.
Sharat, I appreciated how your piece clearly lays out the short and long term impacts climate change can have on Miami. I think one point that is clear to me is that only Miami can save Miami. It seems that on a national and state level funding and support will fluctuate for climate change, so it will be hard to depend on outside political funding or support. Overall, Miami must make efforts along its most vulnerable areas and consider secondary impacts of climate change (like boat issues). It is also vital to protect against climate change today, as hurricanes become more violent and destructive Miami will need to help its citizens and infrastructure be resilient.
Thanks for the very interesting post, Sharat!
Miami is a great example for a US city heavily impacted by climate change. Rising sea levels is a serious challenge not only for Miami. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration almost 2% of all homes in the US are at risk in 2100 if sea levels rise by 6 feet, equaling 882 billion worth in real estate. I completely agree that Miami should partner with other cities and increase pressure on federal entities. Climate change is a global issue and I hope that such examples like Miami can change people’s perspectives who still think climate change is a “scam invented by the Chinese” to finally take it seriously and to commit to fight against it in a global effort.
Really interesting post about a tangible effect of climate change in a major city. Even though I think that tactical solutions like raising city blocks and installing water pumps are steps in the right direction, I fear that will not be enough. According to this Time magazine article (http://time.com/4932565/hurricane-irma-miami-beach/), scientists and engineers are skeptical that building infrastructure to fend against rising sea levels is the right solution. They doubt that in the long run, it’s feasible given the high cost that would imply protecting the city given that its foundation is made out of porous limestone, which allows rising water to enter city blocks. In the end, if efforts are not made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions this will only be a temporary solution.
Miami has the benefit of being a visible city, ringed on the edges with multi-million dollar estates and luxury high rises. This certainly goes a long way towards motivating people to take a serious look at sustainability. As mentioned in your post and in some replies the next step is implementation, and it seems that will be a futile endeavor if you cant get buy in globally. Changing things in one city in America, or one state or even one country will not be enough to get Miami beyond the next 50 years. I am curious to see what plan they might have as a city to get buy in through all these levels, and to target a similarly situated city in the developing world where the coast line is not comprised of mansions and yachts. A true challenge that ultimately affects all of us