Sorry, Daily Caller, Sea-Level Rise Is Real and Miami Isn't Just "Sinking" Because of Too Many Condos

This past Sunday, the Daily Caller, the right-wing news site run by former CNN talking bow tie Tucker Carlson, did Miami a huge favor: The site fixed our long-term issues with sea-level-rise in a single article. Huzzah!

According to the Caller, man is not melting the polar ice caps, and Miami is not actually getting swallowed by the world's ever-rising seas. Instead, the entire South Florida landmass is apparently "sinking" into the ocean because we've actually just built way too much stuff and put too many people on top of the land.

Unfortunately, Miami Beach officials tell New Times the Daily Caller's "Miami Beach is sinking" conspiracy theory is completely inaccurate.

OK, so we need to address some very basic factual inaccuracies in the Caller piece upfront: The writer, Craig Boudreau from Alexandria, Virginia (who refers to himself online as a "musically illiterate musician"), begins by confusing the separate cities of Miami and Miami Beach in paragraph three. 

In a cruel twist of irony, Boudreau opens the piece by criticizing a Grist article that — wait for it — accurately quoted from New Times' own reporting on sea-level rise. Boudreau claims Miami Beach Public Relations Manager Melissa Berthier — whom he inaccurately lists as working for the City of Miami and/or Miami-Dade County — told him the streets of Miami Beach flood only twice a year, during "king tides." 

This is wrong, because (A) anyone who's ever lived in Miami Beach can tell you the streets flood more often than that, and (B) because we actually spoke to Berthier, who says, in no uncertain terms, that the Daily Caller misquoted her but refuses to correct the story.

"Flooding occurs in South Florida during extreme tidal and rain events," she says in an email. "Not solely during 'king tides,' as quoted." Berthier says she contacted the Daily Caller yesterday morning to outline the stream of inaccuracies in the piece, but as of presstime, the story stands unchanged. Boudreau did not respond to an email from New Times.

But more important: The crux of the entire piece also rests on a government study on "land subsidence" (read: sinkage) in the Everglades ecosystem — the writer somehow includes the paved, condominium-covered cities of Miami and Miami Beach within that ecosystem, which is so obviously incorrect it borders on outright fabrication.

According to a United States Geological Survey study, the land within the Everglades actually does appear to be "subsiding," due to too much development sucking water out of the soil, thus leading to collapse. But the study does not, in any way, imply that any of South Florida's coastal cities are sinking into the sea — yet the Daily Caller, however, somehow claims that subsidence is affecting "all of South Florida," and implies that Miami is crumbling into the ocean.

"As populations increase, the need for industry does as well," Boudreau wrote. "That means more water is drawn from the ground for industrial purposes. Add the weight of an increased population and you have a recipe for subsidence. Water that once filled areas underground is now gone, and the land settles into these new hollow spaces."

Reached by phone, Miami Beach Director of Environment and Sustainability Elizabeth Wheaton says she's seen no evidence that Miami Beach is "sinking." (She could not comment about the City of Miami.) Though she did say some cities, especially ones in the Northeast, are dealing with sea-level rise and land subsidence, she says it's wholly inaccurate to claim Miami Beach is, in any way, sinking into the ocean.

"What you’re seeing in the Everglades is a completely different ecosystem," she says. "The writer was misunderstanding what that article was about. In Miami Beach, our city surveyor is out there every day, working in the city, and he has not observed subsidence or any changes in elevation."

As for any skeptics who claim it would be impossible to know whether the sea was rising or the land was sinking, Wheaton says land surveyors use fixed "control points" to ensure they're getting an accurate read on the rising seas.

"There's so much misinformation about what’s happening," Wheaton says. "That’s what breeds the skepticism. It's so important as a region that we go beyond the conversation of if it’s happening to how, as a region, we need to be preparing."

Then, she says flatly: "The sea levels are rising."

In addition to being upset that she was misquoted, Berthier says she's annoyed that climate-change deniers unk information to hold onto, especially because her communication team is working round-the-clock to spread accurate information about sea-level rise.

"It irritates us," she says. "People read that stuff on the web and think it’s true."
Update: It appears the Caller at least changed the piece's headline, from "Miami is Sinking, But that Doesn't Mean Sea Levels Are Rising," to "Natural King Tides, Not Global Warming, At Root Of Miami Flooding." This, Berthier says, is still incorrect, and it seems the article itself hasn't been touched. Berthier also gave us permission to share an email she sent to the Caller's editors, in which she asked them to take the entire post down:

Dear Editors,

I was grossly misquoted in your piece that ran this past Sunday, “Miami is Sinking, But That Doesn’t Mean Sea Levels are Rising.” I called the reporter on Monday to tell him how disappointed I was that it was riddled with inaccuracies. I’m surprised to see that 72 hours later, there have been no changes—when quite frankly, the piece reads like fiction.

1. The headline is wrong—seas are rising and I made that extremely clear to the reporter. When I spoke to him on Tuesday he told me he was not responsible for writing that headline, and his original one was changed.

2. The piece hangs its hat on speaking to “an official from Miami Beach” when I repeatedly mentioned that I am not an environmental expert, but with that said I reinforced climate change is real and sea level is rising.

3. The piece cites the City of Miami throughout, but the reporter only called me. It’s like calling Washington DC to find out about an issue in Arlington VA. It seems the reporter should have called the City of Miami for information on their flooding conditions, but here on Miami Beach the streets do NOT flood with every high tide as I mentioned to the reporter.

4. A quick glance at the USGS report speaks to subsidence in the Everglades…and I also never commented on “subsidence” on Miami Beach, this is definitely not in my wheelhouse of expertise and up until this week (after the article published) I did not know the environmental definition of that word.

5. Flooding occurs in South Florida during extreme tidal and rain events….not solely during king tides as quoted. However, the City of Miami Beach’s storm water infrastructure upgrades are being designed to address both tidal and storm-induced flooding events. These efforts have been highly publicized in all major news publications.

The City of Miami Beach has taken unprecedented measures to protect our municipality from the real threat of rising seas. It’s disheartening to see my name used in a piece that tries to undo our efforts. Accuracy should be the media’s universal currency and this article is a complete misrepresentation of my brief comments to your reporter and the city’s stance.

Respectfully, we are asking that you please remove this piece from your website.

Melissa Berthier

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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.