Sink or Swim: Miami’s Perilous Future Facing Climate Change
By Tara Lohan
With its white-sand beaches and glittery high-rises, Miami is still a vacation hotspot. But lapping at those shores is another reality. The city is also a "possible future Atlantis, and a metonymic stand-in for how the rest of the developed world might fail — or succeed — in the climate-changed future," wrote Miami journalist Mario Alejandro Ariza in his forthcoming book, Disposable City: Miami's Future on the Shores of Climate Catastrophe.
This may not be news to some. The city's plight has been the subject of investigative reporting and even viral news stories after an octopus showed up in a parking garage following an especially high tide.
But Ariza takes a much deeper, more personal dive into the slowly unfolding disaster. Along the way he finds that the central question is whether South Florida — home to 6.5 million people — can equitably withstand what's coming. To do so it will need to reckon with its past sins. "Miami is a damn beautiful city, and it rests on a sodden foundation of merciless racial and environmental exploitation," he wrote.
The first step is figuring out how much sea-level rise there may be and when it's coming — but even that isn't easy, and there's no one definitive number. The regional climate change compact predicts two to six feet of sea-level rise by the end of the century; a NASA scientist has said eight to 10 feet.
One thing is certain, though: 20 percent of Miami-Dade County sits less than two feet above the sea. And by some estimates, the water could get that high in just 40 years.
The time to determine what future Miami may have is now.
After detailing that grim if uncertain reality, Ariza takes a detailed journey through South Florida's vulnerabilities, what actions the region is taking, and those it isn't. The first-person narrative follows Ariza through smelly, flooded city streets; a rigorous paddle to assess the risks to local infrastructure by kayak; and a day traipsing through thick swamps with two veterans to capture invasive Burmese pythons slithering amok.
This drives home a few points: South Florida's environmental problems aren't limited to sea-level rise — although the rising water could make much of it worse.
The draining of swamps, altering of water courses and brazen development have taken a mighty ecological toll. The Everglades are dying, and restoration efforts are painfully slow. The Miami River is choked by nutrient pollution — from leaking septic systems and fertilizer runoff — that's killing seagrasses, a keystone species of shallow marine ecosystems, and an important buffer against storms.
Environmental collapse is just part of the problem, though. There's also economic distress.
"If you expect to survive into the middle of the 21st century, you might just get to watch Miami die," Ariza wrote. "But not before the changing climate stretches the city's already yawning gap between rich and poor past its breaking point."
Miami-Dade is a majority-minority county with half its residents foreign-born. It also has an enormous wealth gap, with 6 in 10 residents spending more than one-third of their income on housing. And most of those who are struggling to make ends meet are black and Hispanic service-sector workers, Ariza explains.
It's precisely those communities with the fewest resources that will be hardest hit by stronger storms, hotter temperatures and rising tides. These inequities "are as dangerous as the city's low-lying topography and porous geology," he wrote.
Already a kind of climate gentrification is underway.
Flooding in Miami's Brickell neighborhood in 2017. Phillip Pessar / CC BY 2.0
Ariza explains how decades of racist policies and real-estate practices have pushed communities of color away from the beach and the newly emerging suburbs. They ended up sandwiched in between, in an area of high ground that now looks enticing to developers.
This new pressure is increasing gentrification in communities already barely surviving. It's liable to get worse, too, Ariza explains. Between $15-$23 billion worth of property may be underwater in 30 years. The market has yet to broadly reflect that, but developers are building on borrowed time, even as the lower-income communities are already feeling the pinch.
"Everything we know about climate change indicates that it pulls at society's loose ends," said Ariza. These cracks in vulnerability could become chasms if the right policies aren't enacted as the city works to mitigate and adapt.
By the end of Disposable City, it's likely readers won't be wildly optimistic about Miami's chances. But they will be armed with a deeper view of what's at stake and the complexities of trying to solve an environmental and social challenge of this magnitude. Even if the city itself does everything right, it still needs the state of Florida to embrace climate reality and the rest of the world to meet science-based targets for greenhouse gas reductions. Efforts are underway, including a newly released draft plan from the Army Corps of Engineers to spend $4.6 billion on sea walls and other projects to protect businesses and homes from storm surges. But much more will be needed.
In Miami these next decades will be fight or flight. Or a combination of both. And he muses on what that would look like. And feel like. Ariza himself is an immigrant, having come to Miami from the Dominican Republic as a kid. He already carries the grief of having left a homeland — a feeling that half the city's population also knows intimately.
"Now we have to face the fact that climate change may well force us to scatter again," he wrote.
The end of the book turns from this hard reality to a future vision as Ariza shifts to a fictional envisioning. No spoilers, but it's safe to say Miami in 2100 will be a changed place. And that's at least one thing we know for sure about this warming world — it is a changing one.
Ariza's deep dive into Miami is an intricate look at his vulnerable city, but it's likely to get readers thinking about their own. What will your hometown look like in 80 years? What do you want it to look like? What will you do to make that hope a reality?
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
By Victoria Masterson
Using one of the world's problems to solve another is the philosophy behind a Norwegian start-up's mission to develop affordable housing from 100% recycled plastic.
Sustainable Homes<p>UN-Habitat says an <a href="https://unhabitat.org/un-habitat-aims-to-use-plastic-waste-to-support-housing-for-all" target="_blank">estimated 60% of people living in urban areas of Africa are in informal settlements</a>. At the same time, between 1990 and 2017, African countries imported around 230 metric tonnes of plastic, "which mostly ended up in dump sites creating a massive environmental challenge," the agency adds.</p><p>UN-Habitat deputy executive director, Victor Kisob, said the aim of the partnership with Othalo was to "promote adequate, sustainable and affordable housing for all."</p>
Artist's impression of an Othalo community, imagined by architect Julien De Smedt. Othalo<p>Othalo's process involves shredding plastic waste and mixing it with other elements, including non-flammable materials. Components are used to build up to four floors, with a home of 60 square metres using eight tons of recycled plastic. A factory with one production line can produce 2,800 housing units annually.</p><p>Following successful laboratory tests, Othalo's factory in Estonia has started producing components to build three demonstration homes for Kenya's capital, Nairobi; Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon and Dakar, the capital of Senegal.</p><p>Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti has been developing and testing the technology since 2016 in partnership with <a href="https://www.sintef.no/en/" target="_blank">SINTEF</a>, a 70-year-old independent research organization in Trondheim, Norway, and experts at Norway's <a href="https://en.uit.no/startsida" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of Tromsø</a>.</p>
Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti. Othalo<p>Almost <a href="https://www.un.org/development/desa/publications/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html" target="_blank">seven out of every 10 people in the world are expected to live in urban areas by 2050</a>. More than 90% of this growth will take place in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.</p><p>"In the absence of effective urban planning, the consequences of this rapid urbanization will be dramatic," UN-Habitat warns.</p><p>Lack of proper housing and growth of slums, inadequate and outdated infrastructure, escalating poverty and unemployment, and pollution and health issues, are just some of the effects.</p><p>Mindsets, policies, and approaches towards urbanization need to change for the growth of cities and urban areas to be turned into opportunities that will leave nobody behind, UN-Habitat says.</p>
Pioneers of Change<p>Reimagining cities and communities for greater resilience and sustainability was a key topic at the<a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020" target="_blank"> World Economic Forum's Pioneers of Change Summit 2020</a>.</p><p>The digital event brought together innovators and stakeholders from around the world to explore solutions to the challenges facing enterprises, governments and society.</p><p>Opening the summit, <a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020/sessions/opening-plenary-8f731cbc65" target="_blank">Stephan Mergenthaler, the Forum's Head of Strategic Intelligence and a member of the Executive Committee</a>, said: "We need to change the way we produce, the way we live and interact in our cities to make this transition to net-zero emissions a reality…</p><p>"And as this year has illustrated so dramatically, we need to make every effort that we keep populations healthy, if we want to avoid jeopardizing all this progress."</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/11/un-africa-recycled-plastic-housing/" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649069252#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.