The graffiti plastered across the top of an abandoned building in Miami Beach had a simple message for neighbors: "Your million dollar houses will soon be under water." The upper-level condos across the street technically won't be submerged soon, but the gist was right. If climate emissions continue at the current rate, Miami Beach is likely to drown by 2100.
Miami Beach, on a low-lying barrier island, already regularly floods at high tides. As a whole, the city of Miami already has $400 billion worth of property at risk from flooding—even without sea-level rise. A recent study found that sea-level rise has tripled over the past decade; by the 2070s, more than $3.5 trillion worth of assets could be exposed.
Stephen Cohen, a resident of the next door building who took the picture, says that he doesn't agree with the tactics, but does think we need to solve the problem: "Let's ask ourselves what we can do to solve this flooding issue together, not scare each other."
In a recent analysis by the real estate company Zillow, which mapped out the homes that could be underwater by 2100, one in eight properties in Florida was at risk. Across the whole country, Zillow estimated that 1.9 million homes, worth a total of $882 billion, could be submerged. After Florida, New Jersey faces the most risk, followed by New York, South Carolina, and Louisiana.
Some cities are attempting to fix the problem with engineering. Miami is spending hundreds of millions to expand sea walls and install new pumps. San Francisco is working on new designs that may replace some buildings with parks along the water's edge, and add new protections in certain locations. In Boston, where Zillow calculates that one in eight homes is at risk, designers have envisioned turning streets to canals and adding floating parks. New York—which has considered a massive new development of parks to protect Lower Manhattan—may end up with what one architect called "a big dumb wall."
Even with redesigned coastlines, some homes would be lost. But if climate emissions can be curbed faster, cities may not lose as much. Zillow's maps are based calculations from a Nature study that projected sea levels could be about six feet higher by the end of the century. If emissions are dramatically cut, however, it might be possible to limit the rise to two feet—still bad, but the difference between some neighborhoods surviving or going underwater.
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Photo by Stephen Cohen