MIAMI—Sea levels are rising here at the rate of an inch a year, and if trends continue, they will rise six feet well before the end of this century. By then, the ocean will have subsumed the city’s low-lying, densely-populated areas—the wealthy coastal enclave of Coral Gables, much of Little Havana, downtown Miami, and of course Miami Beach.
There is nothing Miami can do to stop this. Even if global emissions dropped dramatically today, the city would still be locked in for 15 feet of sea-level rise over the next 200 years, says Jeff Onsted, an associate professor at Florida International University’s Sea Level Solutions Center. The rising water won’t be produced by a single weather event, but will gradually become a part of residents’ lives. And while major cities such as New York can build seawalls, Miami is defenseless because it’s built on porous limestone that would allow ocean water to come up from under the city. Already, yards and streets remain flooded even days after rainstorms have rolled through the city.
But this looming threat isn’t detectable in the massive ongoing construction along the waterfront in Miami. There’s $10 billion of development underway in the city’s downtown, featuring new luxury condos and stores, while the beachfront across Biscayne Bay in Miami Beach is still the hottest property in the area. In the Coconut Grove neighborhood along the water in Miami, a new high-rise is going up right across the street from the Miami City Hall. There, I asked Mayor Tomás Regalado if developers are going to stop building on the waterfront, considering the predicted rise in sea level. “The developers?” he recoiled. “Of course not.”