Low-lying south Florida, at the front line of climate change in the US, will be swallowed as sea levels rise. Astonishingly, the population is growing, house prices are rising and building goes on. The problem is the city is run by climate change deniers.
"Climate change is no longer viewed as a future threat round here," says atmosphere expert Professor Ben Kirtman, of the University of Miami. “It is something that we are having to deal with today.”
Every year, with the coming of high spring and autumn tides, the sea surges up the Florida coast and hits the west side of Miami Beach, which lies on a long, thin island that runs north and south across the water from the city of Miami. The problem is particularly severe in autumn when winds often reach hurricane levels. Tidal surges are turned into walls of seawater that batter Miami Beach’s west coast and sweep into the resort’s storm drains, reversing the flow of water that normally comes down from the streets above. Instead seawater floods up into the gutters of Alton Road, the first main thoroughfare on the western side of Miami Beach, and pours into the street. Then the water surges across the rest of the island.
The effect is calamitous. Shops and houses are inundated; city life is paralysed; cars are ruined by the corrosive seawater that immerses them. During one recent high spring tide, laundromat owner Eliseo Toussaint watched as slimy green saltwater bubbled up from the gutters. It rapidly filled the street and then blocked his front door. “This never used to happen,” Toussaint told the New York Times. “I’ve owned this place eight years and now it’s all the time.”
Most of Florida’s senior politicians – in particular, Senator Marco Rubio, former governor Jeb Bush and current governor Rick Scott, all Republican climate-change deniers – have refused to act or respond to warnings. Though Rubio, a Republican party star and a possible 2016 presidential contender, has made his views clear in speeches. “I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it. I do not believe that the laws that they propose we pass will do anything about it, except it will destroy our economy,” he said recently.
Miami is in denial in every sense, it would seem. Or as Wanless puts it: “People are simply sticking their heads in the sand. It is mind-boggling.”Not surprisingly, Rubio’s insistence that his state is no danger from climate change has brought him into conflict with local people. Philip Stoddard, the mayor of South Miami, has a particularly succinct view of the man and his stance. “Rubio is an idiot,” says Stoddard.