Make no bones about it, Miami is going to sink. Ocean levels are rising globally at an increasing rate due to global warming, and Miami’s low-elevation geography makes it especially vulnerable. The question is not if, but when (1). And the most recent data suggests that it may be sooner than you think (2). Despite this new data, Miami housing prices have continued to rise (2) and multi-billion construction projects are going ahead full steam (1), due in part to an influx in Latin American buyers looking for safe haven investments (3).
How can real estate be booming when it’s all going to be underwater soon enough? Perhaps because Miami insiders, including real estate developers and government officials, appear to be downplaying the issue (3). Indeed, many are incentivized to kick the can down the road – as long as naïve buyers are buying, developers can keep developing, and the government can collect property taxes on inflated valuations.
The local government has begun to take action, however. In 2010, the Miami-Dade county commission joined with other counties to form the Southwest Florida Regional Change Climate Compact (“SFRCCC”). The stated purpose of the compact is to take action to address “the vulnerability of the Southeast Florida region to the impacts of climate change” (4). The SFRCCC produced a Regional Climate Action Plan (“RCAP”) to address these changes. One of the significant planned changes in the RCAP was “to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” Additionally, the RCAP has identified areas which are “uniquely vulnerable to climate impacts, including sea level rise, to serve as a planning tool and encourage technical assistance and funding opportunities.”
The SFRCCC also produced a report which analyzed the impact of a sea-level rise on some of the uniquely vulnerable areas, one of which is Miami. The report identifies significant risks to infrastructure when the sea level rises even a few feet. One example is the Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant, which is located partially below sea level. The report states that the potential impact of a sea rise is unknown (5). Others have speculated that far more infrastructure is at risk in addition to Turkey Point, including the county’s sewer systems and fresh water supply (1).
The report also analyzed the impact that rising seas would have on residential areas. The conclusion was that even a 3-foot rise in seas, which even the conservative forecasts preferred by the SFRCCC acknowledge will occur in the next 50-75 years, will expose significant portions of Miami and Miami Beach to flooding (see purple shading in below graphic) (5).
Yet, the expected real estate losses due to this flooding is conspicuously missing from the report. Despite listing dollar figures for other parts of Southeast Florida, the Commission was unable to report a figure for Miami (5). The county’s tax assessor however listed the combined real estate value at $250 billion (6).
After acknowledging these risks, the SFRCCC also presents 110 action proposals in the report, noting that potential damage to the broader Southeast Florida region could reach into the trillions of dollars (5). Certainly, their efforts to identify the risks and make recommendations represent a positive step forward. Whether the recommendations will result in successful implementation, especially given the billions of funding required, remains to be seen.
Pulling the wool over?
One area in which the SFRCCC seems to not be doing enough is communication. For those who don’t read the 181-page report and instead navigate to the FAQs on the SFRCCC website, it would seem that there is no cause for concern. In addressing the implications of sea level rise on the property market, the site blithely states that “Southeast Florida’s property market continues to be one of the strongest in the U.S.. Each and every day, local governments in South Florida are joining forces to plan and invest in adaptive infrastructure to manage the threats of gradual sea level rise” (7). The website also claims that Miami faces no unique threat due to rising seas, despite evidence that its low-elevation geography makes it and the surrounding area at unusual risk (8).
The mixed messages that the SFRCCC is putting forth is contributing to the general indifference to sea level rise risk that Miami insiders display. This apathy allows for developers to keep developing, and Latin American buyers to continue buying, potentially unaware of the significant risks they are undertaking. The SFRCCC and the Miami-Dade county government need to publicly acknowledge the risks that are ahead for their city. This will be politically unpopular, as it will mean lower real estate values and lower tax revenues. But to pull the wool over the eyes of the naive, while Latin American buyers hold the bag, is deceptive and wrong.
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- Orrin H Pilkey, Linda Pilkey-Jarvis and Keith C Pilkey, The Guardian, 14 Mar 2016
- Weiss and Overpeck, 2010
- Robert Meyer, “How Climate Change Is Fueling the Miami Real Estate Boom,” Bloomberg October 20, 2014 — 11:51 AM EDT
- org: 1-page flyer
- org: “Unified Sea Level Rise Projection: Southeast Florida.” October 2015.
- Pedro Garcia. Press release: “Miami-Dade property values reach record heights”
- michael d. lemonick. “Florida Counties Band Together To Ready for Warming’s Effects.” 12 JAN 2012. E360.yale.edu.