Are developers deluding themselves and others? Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Monday 14 March 2016 12.12 EDT
Sea-level rise may be the most predictable outcome of climate change. Expanding warmer waters and melting land ice both contribute to flooding – and scientists agree that we are locked into sea-level rise for centuries to come. The question is not if we will retreat from the coast, but when. Still, the rush to develop the coast occurs at a maddening pace.
We now know that 13.1 million people are at risk of flooding along the US coast by the end of this century. A new study published in Nature Climate Change further suggests that massive migration will occur unless protective measures are taken. Since sea-level rise will speed up after the end of the century due to increased glacier and ice sheet melting, the flooding we face in this century is just the tip of the iceberg.
The problem is particularly severe along our 3,000-mile low-lying sandy barrier island coast extending, with a few breaks, all the way from the South Shore of Long Island to the Mexican border. Along this long barrier island coast, Florida has the longest and most heavily developed shoreline.
In Miami, a city perilously perched atop a very porous limestone, two multibillion-dollar construction projects are under way, despite the fact that parts of the city routinely flood during high tides and that widespread flooding by the rising sea in a few decades is a virtual certainty. No sea walls, levees or dikes can stop the rising waters from flowing through the underlying spongy limestone and into the city. Miami is ultimately doomed.
A few miles to the north, Fort Lauderdale is undergoing equally intense development and population growth. This city has more beachfront high-rise buildings per mile than any other American beach. According to Katherine Bagley of Inside Climate news “nearly 5,000 apartments or condos are or soon will be under construction” in the city, which already faces routine nuisance flooding. The city’s many canals make Fort Lauderdale all the more vulnerable to rising seas. In light of the wet future in store for the city, increased density is insane.