"We are the most vulnerable metropolitan area in the world when it comes to sea level rise," says University of Miami professor Harold Wanless. Sitting in his office, the avuncular geologist paints a bleak picture. Global warming is a fact, and the results are already visible: hurricanes are getting stronger, droughts and floods more frequent. Here in South Florida, waters rose roughly six inches since between 1930 and 1981. That may not sound like much, but it's just the tip of a rapidly melting iceberg.
"Another eight inches and 65 percent of the county's water control structures will fail," says Wanless. Salt water will come seeping across South Florida, destroying crops, corroding cars, and costing billions in damages. But eight inches is nothing, Wanless says. He expects South Florida seas to rise by at least four, probably six, feet by 2100.
A two-foot rise would plunge 28 percent of Miami-Dade below water. Miami
Beach would be reduced to Ocean Drive (shudder) as celebrities scramble
to save their Star Island mansions. Same thing across the Bay. Sayonara
City Hall. Most worrying of all, Turkey Point Nuclear Facility would be
an island in the newly created Sea of Homestead.
Although two new reactors at Turkey Point are being built at higher
elevation, Florida Power & Light has requested to keep the two
current nukes running until 2035. Given that they were almost inundated
back in 1992 by Hurricane Andrew, what will happen as oceans continue to
"The standards will be 85 years old by then, and that's a problem," says
Arnie Gundersen, a Vermont-based nuclear engineer and consultant. "The
Nuclear Regulatory Commission doesn't upgrade standards when they renew a
license... even though we all know that the world has changed.
Temperatures are higher and hurricanes are more powerful."
Even the new reactors at Turkey Point are being built with Hurricane
Andrew in mind, instead of the mega storms we will see as global warming
worsens. "No one is wondering what will happen if a category 6
hurricane rolls through," he says. "If tidal waves knock out the water
pumps" - as they did at the Fukushima Reactor in Japan earlier this year
- "you can have a meltdown."
FPL spokesman Michael Waldron says Turkey Point is safe and that the
reactors are intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but "no one
knows for sure what the climate change impact on sea levels will be 100
years from now."
A six-foot rise in ocean waters would be less dramatic than a meltdown,
but almost as damaging. Less than half of Miami-Dade would remain, and
of the land still above water, 73 percent would constantly flood.
"That's uninhabitable," Wanless says. At eight-feet higher, Miami-Dade
is an archipelago. At ten, we're Atlantis. But that's not even Wanless's
worst case scenario, in which China and India pump more and more
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greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, Tea Party deniers block American
action, and seas rise by an astounding 20 feet by 2100.
"It's not unforeseeable at all," Wanless says. "It's happened before." Yeah, 130,000 years ago.