The Water Will Come, To Miami and Beyond

Ask ourselves...where should we be building for the future?
— Jeff Goodell

When writing a book about how climate change will and already is affecting coastal cities, including Miami in the story was “a no-brainer,” Jeff Goodell said at a recent talk he gave at the University of Miami. And if you’ve experienced King Tide on Miami Beach, you know why people told him to come down here. Seeing water creep into a CVS door while driving down the street is a strange experience.

Goodell's book “The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World,” is a next level climate change discussion. It’s not if the water will come, but when, and how much.  “We have to move onto the next phase of climate change acceptance,” he says. In his book, he recounts the experiences he’s had over the past several years, traveling the world to some of the most at-risk cities like Venice and New York City to get a better understanding of sea level rise and what is being done to combat it.

Goodell says  part of the problem is a lack of knowledge. Most of us don’t realize the amount of destruction that even a three foot sea level rise could bring. And what’s tricky about Miami is that, depending on where you are, there will be water coming at you from both sides, “Even if you’re inland, there will be water coming from the Everglades too. So just because you’re not near the coast, doesn’t mean you’re safe,” he said.

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His book visits the water slums in Nigerian (below) and explores the idea of a massive sea wall in New York City, forcing readers to view climate change as the global problem it is.  He believes one inevitable result is a mass migration of coastal communities. And while that’s a ways off for Miamians, some island nations are currently facing this reality. These individuals and communities face hard questions. If an island nation relocates to the mainland, how do they maintain their cultural identity?

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Goodell spoke with historians about how people handled the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, to get an idea of how we might handle rising seas. They said that while folks could have adapted, most chose to relocate.  As creatures of habit, we often look for a ‘second best’ place to settle rather than recreate our way of life. Humans are also notoriously short term thinkers and procrastinators, Goodell said. Who wants to think about redoing the sewage system anyway? And there are also so many immediate problems (like school shootings), climate change discussions can get pushed back, and back, and back...especially in a place like Miami where we like to build bright shiny new things.

A recurring theme Goodell brought up is the idea that if we think social inequality is bad now….it’s only going to get worse. How do you decide where to build a sea wall? Who will be included...who won’t? All of these are hard questions. He  jokes that whether or not we trade in our cars for skateboards, it won’t matter because India will build another power plant. But if America takes aggressive moves towards restructuring our energy infrastructure and consumptions, many scientists believe that countries like China and India will follow suit.

  Source: EPA

Source: EPA

What can Miami do?

While Goodell doesn’t think we need to start packing up quite yet, the obvious first step, he says, is to stop building new construction in risky areas. And ask ourselves, where should we be building for the future? 

The next thing? Think about what we want to save. What historical and cultural spaces and places in Miami will we want to relocate if and when that time comes? These are not fun things to think about. But they’re necessary.  When looking at global solutions to climate change, Goodell seemed to dislike large infrastructure based projects like coastal sea management, building sea walls, or raising city elevations.  Instead he favors the ideas of retreat and geoengineering a reflector shield in the atmosphere.

Stay tuned for our next blog that discusses what YOU can do about climate change.


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