We all know by now that South Florida is on its way to sinking into the sea. Yet many of the climate change projections look so far into the future that it can be difficult to fathom experiencing an environmental doomsday in our lifetime.
But a new study by Resources for the Future (RFF), a nonprofit environmental think tank, shows how Miami — and all of Florida — will be directly affected by climate change within the next 20 years.
"The impacts of climate change are here now, and they will become more pronounced in just the next couple of decades," says Daniel Raimi, an RFF researcher and co-author of the report.
Florida is familiar with sunny-day flooding, king tides, and the increasing frequency and severity of tropical storms and hurricanes. Raimi says those effects will continue to proliferate without new policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Miami, in particular, will suffer — it's one of the most at-risk cities in the world for damage caused by coastal flooding and storms, the report says.
"By one measure, it faces the largest risk of any major coastal city in the world, with more than $400 billion in assets at risk as of 2005," the report says.
THREAD: How will Florida be impacted by #ClimateChange—not in 100 years, but in 20? A new RFF report assesses the near-term physical and economic impacts of climate change and climate policy in Florida. https://t.co/eUQoukZPkB #EconTwitter #ClimateTwitter #FCO pic.twitter.com/JTIYsZzMSs— Resources for the Future (@rff) January 30, 2020
6/ Miami has >$400 billion in assets put at risk by #CoastalFlooding and storms—the largest amount of any major coastal city in the world.— Resources for the Future (@rff) January 30, 2020
Nearly 500,000 Floridians live on land less than three feet above the high-water mark — that's about 300,000 homes and some $145 billion in property, according to the study.
"Over 2,500 miles of roads, 372 hazardous waste sites, 30 schools, and 4 hospitals could be subjected to flooding," the report reads.
Rising seas threaten property and infrastructure, and those threats will place a financial burden on governments and residents. That will be particularly true in the Florida Keys: According to the RFF study, the Monroe County Sustainability Office analyzed the cost of raising roads by 2045 to accommodate higher sea levels and determined the county likely won't be able to elevate every road owing to cost. Some roads — and entire neighborhoods — might need to be abandoned.
Over the next 20 years, the Sunshine State will endure more blisteringly hot days. Between 1981 and 2010, Florida experienced about seven days a year with temperatures exceeding 95 degrees. Going forward, that number will range from 22 to 26 days a year, the study says.
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And, of course, human health risks come with prolonged high heat and other environmental shifts. Just look at the 12 elderly people who died in 2017 after Hurricane Irma knocked out the air-conditioning system at a nursing home in Hollywood.
High temperatures can affect the heart and brain. The RFF report says extreme temperatures can increase mortality rates, and the researchers estimate that 1,000 to 1,400 people older than age 65 could die from high heat each year by 2035 in Florida.
The study analyzes several policy proposals, including carbon pricing, which involves charging the sources and producers of greenhouse gases for the carbon dioxide they release into the atmosphere. But certain climate policies can make goods and services that rely on fossil fuel combustion more expensive, which can negatively affect low-income households, the report says.
"The main point we're trying to illustrate is that climate change policies do have costs," Raimi says. "They raise the cost of energy. But if you design policy in the right way, it doesn't have to be onerous, particularly on low-income households."