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January 29, 2015 2:30 PM   Subscribe

Treading Water by Laura Parker [National Geographic]
Phil Stoddard, in his third term as mayor of South Miami, is one of the few politicians willing to talk about when that time might come... He drew a graph with three lines that show population, property values, and sea level all rising. Then abruptly, population growth and property values plummet. “Something is going to upset the applecart,” he says. “A hurricane, a flood, another foot of sea rise, the loss of freshwater. People are going to stop coming here and bail.”
He thinks a real estate sell-off is inevitable. Before that happens, he wants his constituents to be informed. “People ask me this question, ‘I’m X years old. I have X amount of net worth in my house. What should I do?’ I say, ‘If you need the value of that house to retire or to live on, then you want to cash out at some point. It doesn’t have to be this year. But don’t wait 20 years.’ ”

Not long ago Stoddard attended a meeting where Wanless presented his analysis showing that the accelerating disintegration of the ice sheets will lead to a more rapid rise of sea levels—faster and higher than the federal government’s projections. That night, as Stoddard and his teenage daughter walked on moonlit Miami Beach, he shared what he’d heard.

“She went silent, and then said to me, ‘I won’t be living here, will I?’ And I said, ‘No, you won’t.’ Kids get it. Do you think we should tell their parents?”
posted by overglow (32 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
The U.S. Military believes in man-made climate change and has plans for it. People who own coastal real estate believe in it. The majority of the citizens of the United States believe in it. The rest of the world believes in it. Only the majority of our politicians don't believe in it (or claim to not believe in it, which is functionally the same thing). Even when they recently voted about climate change, they removed the language about humans causing it. They acknowledge the world is in trouble, but deny that there's anything we can do about it. If we do something about it, it might cost some rich people some money and we can't have that. So, we allow the world to plunge into ecological disaster and as the coasts flood and storms grow unmanageable, somewhere God speaks to humanity in Frances McDormand's voice "...and for what? For a little bit of money."
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:42 PM on January 29, 2015 [33 favorites]


(also, good article and worth reading)
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:42 PM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


‘I won’t be living here, will I?’

That's heartbreaking. And it's also true for a huge part of South Asia, including some of the most densely populated areas in the world. (Bangladesh alone has over 150 million people.) If you think fights over immigration are a big deal now...
posted by RedOrGreen at 2:48 PM on January 29, 2015 [2 favorites]




The issue isn't, I think, that it might cost rich people a little bit of money; it's that letting climate change play out is actively beneficial. Look at the interview with the developer - climate change brings investment opportunities!

Think about all the things that people are going to have to buy as climate change gets worse - all the air conditioners and heaters and building repair materials and hot weather stuff and cold weather stuff - and all the services, the de-moldification services, and the weather-proofing services and lots of things we haven't even imagined yet.

Think about the reserve labor army that's going to come pouring out of Bangladesh and the rest of South Asia and the equatorial zones - waves of truly desperate people who will crash against our borders, ready to work for a shack to live in and a bowl of gruel. Consider that not only will the wealthy profit when wages get driven down, but they will also profit as we militarize our borders even more. They will profit from policing the refugees and selling goods and services to the agencies that run the transit camps. The most sensitive of their children will be senior nonprofit administrators on fat salaries rather than hedge fund managers.

Consider how desperate everyone is going to be as food gets scarcer and the water infrastructure collapses - it will be one, two, a hundred Detroits.

Think of all the things that they'll be able to buy for pennies as city governments and hospitals and smaller businesses fail.

And these people will always be able to afford all the "climate" they want - the last chunks of boreal forest and the last snowy mountain resorts will be where they spend their down time; they'll have clean air and fresh water and organic food. They won't give a shit about the pullulating mass of the rest of us, because they don't have to.

Climate change isn't a problem or an expense; it's an opportunity.

That's why we'll get climate change - because it will make bank for the elites while not affecting them very much, at least not if they can spend enough on security forces.
posted by Frowner at 2:59 PM on January 29, 2015 [60 favorites]


Man, that thing from Inhofe is a fractally wrong statement: it is so wrong that every individual part of it is fully as wrong as the statement as the whole.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:59 PM on January 29, 2015 [9 favorites]


[He has] a large pond that takes up most of the backyard, where he and his wife swim with Lola the koi and an eight-year-old bass named Ackwards.

If you have a pet bass and don't name it that I guess you lose.
posted by The Bellman at 3:01 PM on January 29, 2015 [17 favorites]


"People are dying, people have always died, and people always will. There is archaeological evidence of that and historic evidence of that. They will always die. The hoax is that there are some people who are so arrogant to think that they are so powerful they can make people die. Man doesn't make people die."
posted by Four Ds at 3:04 PM on January 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


I was born and raised in Broward County. I recently went back home to visit my parents and while I was there they told me there was a new bike path that ran along C-14 which is one of the drainage canals that runs from the ocean out to the everglades. So I decided to check it out. As I was riding along this perfectly dead straight, obviously man-made waterway, pretty much every house I passed had mildew creeping up it's stucco walls and most backyards were dealing with some level of overgrowth. It struck me then, that we (humanity) were not meant to be here. That nature would at some point come back and reclaim that land that we took from it. The canals and coastal dredging are ultimately futile attempt to control an uncontrollable force and delay the inevitable. South Florida was built on a filled-in swamp, and to swamp it shall return, in due time.

There were iguanas sunning themselves on the rocks and concrete rubble that made up the banks of the canal. They seemed so serene. Like they were just passing the time, waiting for us to leave.
posted by dudemanlives at 3:05 PM on January 29, 2015 [25 favorites]


> The rest of the world believes in it.

Harumph! I will have you know that Canadian politicians have no equals when it comes to climate change denial, thank you.
posted by The Card Cheat at 3:07 PM on January 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


OK, I grant you, Canadian politicians are becoming increasingly moronic.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:08 PM on January 29, 2015


Great article, overglow; thanks.

climate change brings investment opportunities!

The shipping companies salivating over new arctic shipping routes are a perfect example of that mindset. But this mindset is the one that really drives me batty:

“It doesn’t do any good to set your hair on fire for something that’s 70 years out,” says Kristin Jacobs...who was elected to the Florida legislature last fall. She puts her faith in technology. “If you look at settlement across the planet since time began, we evolve to what we need,” she says. “Other countries, like Holland, have figured out a way to be resilient. We are looking to be resilient.”

Looking to be resilient but doing nothing in the meantime to raise the money needed to deal with the problem:

It will take technology not yet imagined to overcome the challenges posed by South Florida’s unusual geology: the limestone bedrock that is both a blessing and a curse. Mined, limestone provides fill to build roads and create what constitutes high ground. In its natural state, it’s a porous sponge. Water runs through it. It can’t be plugged. Seawalls can be raised—as the city of Miami Beach has ordered. But seawalls, no matter how high, can’t stop water that bubbles up from beneath.
posted by mediareport at 3:08 PM on January 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


Frowner, I totally agree that some elites think like that. I wonder if more of them are simply unable to imagine the long-term impacts of the current system--it seems like there's a lot of factors shielding them from the physical reality that we're all part of one big, super-complex interrelated system that we don't fully understand. Because of that, I think it's hard to say that climate change will be profitable. I mean, given the complexity of Earth's ecology (and the complexity of human social systems) it seems tricky to make any clear predictions. Climate change (and mass extinction and ocean acidification, etc.) might lead to some ecological collapse that kills most complex life forms on Earth or lead, as the end of your comment suggests, to social upheaval and revolution that fundamentally alters the way we organize society.
posted by overglow at 3:25 PM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Only the majority of our politicians don't believe in it

Well, as regards the Senate bill this is not true. An amendment attributing climate change to human activity "passed" 59-40 and another saying "human activity significantly contributes to climate change" "passed" 50-49. Its just that these days the Senate requires 60 votes to do anything.

So a majority of Senators do believe it. However a majority of the House probably doesn't given the party makeup there.
posted by thefoxgod at 3:26 PM on January 29, 2015


Don't discount a simple Somebody Else's Problem field, either. There are probably plenty of people old enough to not be really all that adversely affected by climate change (who knows, maybe that includes all of us, too) who simply don't care that much since they won't be around to feel its effects. Maybe they don't have children, or maybe they do and are self-centered enough that it doesn't matter (I know one or two I would say this of).
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 3:36 PM on January 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


Don't discount a simple Somebody Else's Problem field, either. There are probably plenty of people old enough to not be really all that adversely affected by climate change (who knows, maybe that includes all of us, too) who simply don't care that much since they won't be around to feel its effects. Maybe they don't have children, or maybe they do and are self-centered enough that it doesn't matter (I know one or two I would say this of).

Given how the AARP members have just gutted public education in Florida because they don't want to pay for it, I think self-centered would not be an inaccurate description.
posted by leotrotsky at 4:02 PM on January 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


“2015 Already Reads Like Dystopian Fiction,” Brian Merchant, Motherboard, 23 January 2015 (h/t homunculus)
posted by ob1quixote at 4:09 PM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Resources exist to be consumed. And consumed they will be, if not by this generation then by some future. By what right does this forgotten future seek to deny us our birthright? None I say! Let us take what is ours, chew and eat our fill!
—CEO Nwabudike Morgan, "The Ethics of Greed"
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:14 PM on January 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


basically what I'm trying to say is that James Inhofe deserves to be attacked by psionic mindworms sent out by a planet-spanning fungus-based sentient neural net.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:19 PM on January 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


basically what I'm trying to say is that James Inhofe deserves to be attacked by psionic mindworms sent out by a planet-spanning fungus-based sentient neural net.

Paging cstross & jscalzi to the white courtesy phone, please.
posted by leotrotsky at 4:27 PM on January 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


Life, which you so nobly serve, comes from destruction, disorder and chaos. Now take this simple beachfront. Here it is: peaceful, serene, boring. But if it is destroyed... Look at all these machines! So busy now! Notice how each one is useful. A lovely ballet ensues, so full of form and color. Now, think about all those people that created them. Technicians, engineers, hundreds of people, who will be able to feed their children tonight, so those children can grow up big and strong and have little teeny children of their own, and so on and so forth. Thus, adding to the great chain of life. You see, father, by causing a little destruction, I am in fact encouraging life. In reality, you and I are in the same business.
posted by IRFH is not dead yet at 4:51 PM on January 29, 2015 [11 favorites]


2006 the New Yorker magazine did a very similar article about the future of South Louisiana
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 5:05 PM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


There is no amount of engineering that can save Miami in the long run. As mentioned in the article, even with barriers and seawalls the water is still going to bubble up from below.

And it's already happening. Those 'king tides' are not the only times that streets fill with water. I spent a lot of time in Miami Beach while my (now) wife worked there in 2013 and we'd see several days every month where water would flow up through the sewer grates in the Bay Road and Purdy Ave area.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised at the level of denial, but given how obviously the city is screwed it amazes me how much money is still flowing into the area to develop real estate, especially all the one-percenters from Latin America and elsewhere who see it as a safe place to park their cash.
posted by theory at 5:23 PM on January 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


I would enjoy the thought of hateful rich people literally taking a bath on Florida real estate, if not for the fact that they'll probably get out of it fine while everyone else will become a refugee.
posted by emjaybee at 5:38 PM on January 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


I have a colleague who builds databases for the industry I work for, and he's a really smart guy. He took me out for lunch at a conference and we got on to the topic of Florida. He also lives on the coast, in Miami, and he was telling me how much he loved it, and how he'd never move. Being the bit-of-an-ass that I am, I asked if he thought rising sea levels might ever cause him to have to move. He said no. He thought that at least in his lifetime, technology would solve the problem. Not the rising sea level problem, but the flooding problem. "We'll figure out what to do about the water. We already are changing infrastructure to handle it"

When we got to the restaurant we ordered, and then gabbed more about the work we do. When our meals came, he took a moment, discretely bowed his head, and then said a silent prayer.

I like this guy. And I know he's smart, very smart. But it struck me that the problem may not actually be a problem of lack of understanding. The problem may be more rooted in faith. He doesn't deny climate change, nor that it's caused by human action. He also seems to pragmatically believe that we will not address the issue in a way that will change or reverse climate change in his lifetime, at least enough so that he doesn't have to worry about the water for the next thirty years, which at his age is about as long as he'll live in that house.

I don't share his faith, in either a god or a technological solution to the water problem. But I do think I better understand why the issue isn't being addressed with the kind of urgency that I'd like to see. Most of the politicians who deny it are just assholes who do it for the donations associated with doing it. But I wonder if most of the citizens who don't feel the urgency that I feel are people of faith. Faith in technology, faith in human ingenuity, maybe even faith in a god who will help.

I also wonder if the fact that my friend doesn't have kids, and I do, isn't related to our approaches and the intensity of our concerns. While I kind of envy the comfort his faith brings him, I wish he could be more empathetic to those who aren't sure there's a place for us after the water rises, alive or dead, and who care more about the future of the next generation than we do about ourselves.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:26 PM on January 29, 2015 [8 favorites]


fwiw, a comment from john baez (discussing what would happen if the greenland ice sheet completely melts): "I think sea level rise will be annoying and occasionally devastating, but still manageable if civilization responds intelligently. Most recent estimates say the ocean level will rise between 0.6 and 1.2 meters by 2100. An 0.6 meter sea level rise might displace 3 million people and raise the risk of flood for millions more. A 1 meter sea level rise would displace 15 million people in Bangladesh alone. However, if this occurs as slowly as expected, people can adapt. A more urgent problem is an increase in 'wild weather' - floods, droughts and heat waves. A storm surge happens very quickly... and that's what I mean by 'occasionally devastating.' "
posted by kliuless at 6:54 PM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


oh and also btw, fwiw, re: elites; like bloomberg and bezos are about as elite as they come...
posted by kliuless at 8:46 PM on January 29, 2015


"But I wonder if most of the citizens who don't feel the urgency that I feel are people of faith. Faith in technology, faith in human ingenuity, maybe even faith in a god who will help."

This is actually a text book example of equivocation. Incredible.
posted by klarck at 4:29 AM on January 30, 2015


> "There is archaeological evidence of that, and historic evidence of that ..."

This is a misquote. Watch the video. What Inhofe actually said was:

"There is archaeological evidence of that, THERE'S BIBLICAL EVIDENCE OF THAT, there's historic evidence of that ..."

Don't make him sound less crazy than he actually is.
posted by kyrademon at 4:35 AM on January 30, 2015 [8 favorites]


What Inhofe actually said was:

Holy Marconi, he really did say "There's biblical evidence of that", which CSPAN's own transcript mysteriously left out. That's what I get for copy-pasting it without verification.

May it please the mods, if the record could rectified I would be most grateful.
posted by Doktor Zed at 5:33 AM on January 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Previously.

South Florida has two big problems. The first is its remarkably flat topography. Half the area that surrounds Miami is less than five feet above sea level. Its highest natural elevation, a limestone ridge that runs from Palm Beach to just south of the city, averages a scant 12 feet. With just three feet of sea-level rise, more than a third of southern Florida will vanish; at six feet, more than half will be gone; if the seas rise 12 feet, South Florida will be little more than an isolated archipelago surrounded by abandoned buildings and crumbling overpasses. And the waters won't just come in from the east – because the region is so flat, rising seas will come in nearly as fast from the west too, through the Everglades.

Also, A city by city forecast of rising sea levels.
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 7:11 AM on January 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Good News, everyone! Iceland is rising out of the sea!
This month, a study authored by a team from University of Arizona and University of Iceland shows exactly how dramatic the unexpected effects of climate change really are. The paper, Climate driven vertical acceleration of Icelandic crust measured by CGPS geodesy, analyzed data from GPS sensors all over Iceland to measure how much and how often those points of land moved (geodesy is the science of measuring the Earth's surface). The authors kept track of just how far the sensors shifted over time—and found that those data points told a fascinating and awful story.
Sorry about the Gawker media link but it's got good links to sources and a link to an article behind a paywall.
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 8:03 AM on January 30, 2015


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