• Mark Rowlands

Happy New Year, Atlantis!

I enter 2020 with Miami’s seemingly manifest destiny a doleful, hovering presence at the back of my mind. Sometimes - although I am not an unduly practical man - my attention meanders toward practical matters. How long do we have? The end. Death - the end - is something we are not very good at in general. As the, also, quite-recently-disgraced personage, Martin Heidegger, once argued - he was a philosopher not a comedian, but it is sometimes difficult to distinguish the two - we humans have a great deal of difficulty understanding that we are going to die. Most of the time, the best we can do is grasp this most important of our possibilities as a vague, indeterminate event, occupying an as yet undetermined future. Heidegger wasn’t very impressed by this, but my point is that many of us tend to see the death of Miami in similar terms. Simple acquaintance with the relevant facts will tell you that it is coming. Our continuing inability to control the concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere makes it virtually inevitable that by the end of this century the earth is going to be around 4°C hotter than it is now. People talk about the Paris Agreement and how that is going to keep everything below 2°C or even – dare to dream – 1.5°C. But almost no country is even close to meeting its Paris commitments, and the Paris commitments, as they stand, wouldn’t keep temperature increase below 4°C anyway, even if all countries were to honor them. Which they won’t. My point is that 4°C is not some alarmist figure that I have just pulled out of my ass. It’s now a mid-range estimate. And the ranges keep going up. A global increase of 4°C is probably already locked in given what we have already done and what we are going to continue to do in the next ten years. It is the best we can hope for. You know how much higher sea levels were the last time earth was 4°C hotter than it is now? Around 250 feet. That’s what’s coming. The only question is: when?

More immediately pressing is not how long before the family house sinks beneath the waves, but how long before people finally cotton on and said house becomes worthless? Like a recently re-discovered packet of Ramen noodles that has been sitting at the back of the pantry for too long, the remnant of a hurricane supply kit of years gone by, I suspect the value of our house has a clear expiration date that is coming around with notable rapidity. I'm not too worried yet. People are still buying houses in the Keys, ffs! To be honest, I was tempted the other day. But there is a cheerful little website you might like to visit. Here it is.

I’ll spare you the details, since they will be in the screen in front of you. But the general contours of the submersion of south Florida look something like this. After one foot of sea-level rise, around a third of the Everglades will disappear. Parts of Miami Beach will also start to look distinctly soggy. After two feet of sea level rise, around one half of what used to be the Everglades will be absorbed into the Gulf of Mexico. New areas of swampland will start to appear, especially in southern Miami-Dade and western Broward counties. After three feet of sea-level rise, three-quarters of what used to be the Everglades will lie beneath the Gulf of Mexico. The ‘New Everglades’, that started to appear in southern Miami-Dade after two feet of sea-level rise, will now be absorbed by the rapidly expanding Florida Straits. After four feet of sea-level rise, almost all of the former Everglades will disappear. Miami beach will be essentially no more. The same is true, with the possible exception of certain parts of North Key Largo, of the Keys. I’ll miss the Keys. Farewell, Margaritaville. Adios, Jimmy Johnson’s Big Chill. Hasta la vista, Sparky’s Magic Landing.

But never mind! Our house, in Palmetto Bay, is still there! People told me I was a fool to worry about this, but I knew that buying a house eight feet above sea-level – vertiginous territory in these parts, you know – would pay off in the end. Indeed, the Climate Central map now identifies it as oceanfront property! Not that I’ll be around, still less working by, by this time, but if I were, I might even still have a job: The University of Miami – the U – will still, theoretically, be there. Admittedly, I would need a boat to get to work, but I’ve wanted one of them for years. Could even tie it up outside the house. Is that what you do to boats? Tie them up? Moor them? I'll have to find out. It’s true that the U might find it difficult to attract students: Miami International Airport will now be at least partially submerged. But it will have to rely, even more than it does, on home grown students who, let’s face it, will have trouble going anywhere else. And, anyway, less students equals smaller class sizes and, consequently, less grading. It just keeps getting better and better.

Until it doesn’t. Through five, six, seven and eight feet of sea-level rise, what was once South Florida progressively transforms into the ‘New Keys’, islands that become smaller and smaller with each new inch of sea-level rise. My newly oceanfront residence will disappear at around six to seven feet of rise, the canal onto which it backs having merged with the Atlantic. After ten feet of sea-level rise, a few tiny slivers of land aside, that will be pretty much all she wrote. South Florida will sleep with da fishes.

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