Despite global warming’s obvious environmental impact it is often difficult to put a grasp on a tangible cost of climate changes, but Miami, FL is a showcase of what will happen within the next few decades and how much it will cost. Miami, FL is located at the tip of the Florida peninsula on a flat porous limestone plateau with an average elevation of just 6 ft above sea level and right in the middle of the “hurricane alley” stretching from the west coast of Africa to Gulf of Mexico’s east coast. The city faces now locally all the global threats of the future: water shortage, abnormal weather risk and rising ocean water levels.
Due to rising temperature, billions of tonnes of ice melt into the ocean every year. It is believed that the ice trapped in polar caps could raise the sea levels by around 75 metres if it all melted. Polar ice caps are shrinking at a rate of 34 300 square kilometres per year and with each tenth of a degree more this process escalates and sea levels rise faster. Over the last century and a half water level rose by 8 inches (20 cm) and since the rate doubled over the last twenty years it is predicted the sea levels will have risen over 4 ft (120 cm) higher by 2100. Without any counteraction, over one-third of Miami would be underwater and being high and dry would actually be a good thing. Meanwhile, the costs of ocean levels rising are already visible. Salty water penetrates the porous limestone upon which Miami is built and contaminates the Biscayne Aquifer, the main source of fresh water for the whole South Florida. The Aquifer’s convenient, the shallow location made Miami fresh water one of the cheapest in the whole country, but now it turns out to be its peril. Freshwater in Miami is now 20% more expensive than five years ago and over one third more expensive than a decade ago and the underground dams separating the Biscayne Aquifer from the ocean will need to be raised within the next decade.
In times of peril mankind’s choice has always come down to our most primal “fight and flight” instinct. Miami’s problem is a classic example of this dilemma. Fighting for the city will bring annual, cumulative cost of supplying it with water, strengthening the construction of buildings against hurricanes and building dams both around on the coast and underground to keep the ocean off the land and separated from the fresh water deposits. The alternative means abandoning over $3.5 trillion in assets and relocating nearly 5 million people. In Miami, both plans are simultaneously in motion with the city council assuring the population everything will be taken care of and the developers still erecting buildings right by the ocean whilst many people sell their properties and leave the city, which results in a progressive real-estate market slump.
Seaside property prices are still soaring, but it is increasingly difficult to get a mortgage in places most endangered and within the next decade first cities will face a dilemma whether to spend money on saving the estates or to abandon them. These are the only ways of dealing with this crisis: engineering (superficially elevating coastal barriers) or retreating (abandoning land and buildings). What Miami faces within the next two decades, the rest of the world will experience another quarter of a century later. Although the core of the problem is still in the future it is in itself inevitable and universal worldwide. In less than two decades the problem will reach not only Miami and North Carolina but also Amsterdam, Bangkok, Calcutta, Guangzhou, Mumbai, New Orleans, New York, Shanghai and Tokio.
By 2070 over 100 million people will need to be relocated and over $20 trillion, a quarter of world’s GDP and that is on top of the rolling costs of global warming estimated to be around 1.5% of the world’s GDP in 2025, and close to 2.5% in 2070. Just the extra loss of abandoned real estate, spread over the next 50 years would slow the world’s average growth, currently established at 3.5% per year, by 0.5% and squeezed into a decade it would trigger a decade-long depression. The only hope is we will take the global threat more seriously than Florida’s developers, still erecting seaside condos and apartments for rent despite last year’s real estate prices drop, which marks the beginning of a new age. An age when adverse climate change is reflected in property prices, insurance premiums and water supply.