Miami Truly Has No Idea How to Deal With Sea-Level Rise

King tides are routinely swallowing cars in South Beach, but solutions are hard to come by.
King tides are routinely swallowing cars in South Beach, but solutions are hard to come by.

Perhaps you've been watching the rising seas routinely inundating Miami streets, soaking cars and stranding residents unlucky enough to not own kayaks, and thinking to yourself, "Well, I'm sure our leaders have some great ideas how to save our city."

Afraid not! This morning, the New Yorker dropped a new longread on Miami's threatened future and it makes one thing abundantly clear: No one at any level of city or state government or in the scientific community has any idea how to cope with this.

For her piece, writer Elizabeth Kolbert sat down with every major player in this drama, from Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine to heads of environmental management agencies to top local scientists. To each, she asked the same question: What can be done?

The most optimistic — and common — answer was that someday, somehow, technology will come to the rescue. 

“I think people are underestimating the incredible innovative imagination in the world of adaptive design,” Harvey Ruvin, the clerk of courts and head of the county's Sea Level Rise Task Force, told her

Levine echoed that: “I believe in human innovation," he said. “We’re going to have innovative solutions to fight back against sea-level rise that we cannot even imagine today.”

What might those solutions be, though? As we all know by now, Miami won't be saved by traditional flood control methods like dikes and dams — or the pumps and raised roads Miami Beach is spending hundreds of millions on today. Since we all sit on a bed of porous limestone, rising water literally bubbles up through the ground itself. 

Bruce Mowry, Miami Beach's city engineer, has the most gung-ho imagination. He speculates about waterproof resins sprayed beneath ground level or clays injected directly into the limestone. He even dreams of rebuilding the entire city on a new foundation. “What I’d really like to do is pick the whole city up, spray on a membrane, and drop it back down,” he admits.

Most distressingly of all, the only remotely realistic idea comes from South Miami Mayor Phil Stoddard. We're all just going to have to leave.

"There’s no keeping the water out,” he admits to Kolbert. “So ultimately this area has to depopulate. What I want to work toward is a slow and graceful depopulation, rather than a sudden and catastrophic one.”


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