The Nation Flounders on Miami Sea-Degree Rise Story
From the climaterealism
By Sterling Burnett and Anthony Watts
A recent debate in The Nation claimed Miami should either make plans to evacuate off the Florida coast or become a model of adaptation in response to rapidly rising sea levels due to climate change and the resulting refugees. The story is not only wrong, it is ridiculously inept. There is no evidence that the United States is facing the loss of a major coastal city due to climate change, or that climate change has created or will create climate refugees.
The Nation published an exchange between Daniel Aldana Cohen and Samantha Schuyler entitled “Should We Start Preparing for the Evacuation of Miami?”.
Cohen, an assistant professor of sociology at UC Berkeley, bases his entire argument for abandoning Miami on the claim that refugees who get there, like residents, will soon be left with nowhere to stay, citing the evacuation as a good example for other cities is, and writes:
Governments and social movements urgently need to start planning the landing of millions of people in new places. Preparing to evacuate Miami is a perfect place to start. Its residents are a multiracial, multi-national, and multi-generational congregation that spans the class spectrum. Tragically, many of them are already climate refugees – like Puerto Ricans displaced by recent hurricanes.
If cities across the country were forced to plan how to integrate incoming Miamians into communities that have green public investments, they would get a head start on planning for climate migration in general. It would also spark talks about density zoning, enshrining tenant rights, modernizing infrastructure, taxing the rich, building green banks and tackling racism and police violence.
Throughout his article, Cohen refers to non-scientific concerns such as emancipation, the “Great Migration”, environmental injustice and apartheid. The only thing missing from Cohen’s argument were facts and data proving that a pull out of Miami is necessary or that climate refugees are or will be a problem.
To first address Cohen’s concerns about climate refugees, as examined here and here, neither the frequency nor intensity of hurricanes have increased during the modern warming era. So worsening hurricanes won’t force people to leave Miami or drive people from islands near Miami to the US mainland. As for the climate refugees, who Cohen believes are already seeping into Miami, which he thinks will soon become a flood, it turns out he’s wrong again. Not a single climate refugee has been detected, as discussed here at Climate Realism, nor is there reason to believe that the United States or any other country is being swamped by climate refugees, as discussed here and here.
To The Nation’s credit, Cohen’s article includes a contrapuntal response from Samantha Schuyler, The Nation’s director of research. Unfortunately, Schuyler’s answer is only slightly less alarming.
“Eventually, unless South Florida changes its approach to addressing climate change, an evacuation will be necessary,” Schuyler writes. “But if we pull out of Miami too soon, we will lose a vibrant city that could have become a training ground for learning how to adapt to the future of the planet.”
For example, as discussed in numerous articles on climate realism, there is no evidence here or here that seas normally rise rapidly.
NASA satellite instruments, which have been measuring sea levels since 1993, show that global sea levels are rising at a rate of 1.2 inches per decade. As shown in Climate at a Glance: Sea Level Rise, this is roughly the same rate of sea level rise since at least the mid-19th century. In addition, sea level rise has accelerated little or not at all in recent years.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) maintains a tide gauge just off the coast of Miami on Virginia Key. The NOAA Virginia Key tide gauge shows that sea level rise in Miami is even slower than the global average of 1.2 inches per decade, as shown in Figure 1 below. Miami, shows no signs of accelerating sea level rise.
Figure 1: The relative trend in sea level is 3.0 millimeters/year with a 95% confidence interval of +/- 0.21 mm/year, based on monthly mean sea level data from 1931 to 2021, a change of 0.98 feet in 100 years.
So if sea level rise is slower than the global average and shows no sign of accelerating, what is driving Cohen and Schuyler’s concern that Miami may soon be uninhabitable?
At the heart of Cohen’s and, to a lesser extent, Schuyler’s concerns about climate change sweeping Miami are flawed computer models and actual land subsidence.
Cohen and Schuyler appear to have joined other pop culture climate analysts in assuming worst-case scenarios generated by computer climate models about the future. However, in a recent report, some climate scientists are putting the brakes on future warming and saying other researchers should avoid suspicious climate models. This research confirms what Climate Realism first reported in August 2021, the climate model Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5 (RCP8.5) produces “incredibly hot predictions of future warming.”
Without the worst-case scenario, sea-level rise forecasts are withdrawn. The only evidence Cohen cited to support his argument about rapidly rising sea levels is the Miami-Dade County Flooding Vulnerability Viewer, a computer mapping tool for Miami showing what the future looks like with sea level rise could. But even this evidence cannot support Cohen’s claims. By making a direct comparison, as shown in Figure 2, you can see for yourself that Miami doesn’t need an “evacuation” at all.
Figure 2. Present (left) and future (right) sea level rise projections for Miami. Source: Miami-Dade County Flooding Vulnerability Viewer
Miami’s real problem isn’t sea level rise, it’s land subsidence. Much of Miami was built on reclaimed swampland and then built up with modern infrastructure. This added weight causes land to sink, known as subsidence, which allows seawater to infiltrate as surfaces drop to near sea levels. It also means that during heavy rains and hurricane surges, areas that have subsided aren’t drained like they were years ago.
This is discussed clearly in the academic paper Land subsidence Contribution to Coastal Flooding Hazard in Southeast Florida, published in Proceedings of IAHS in 2020. The treatise clearly states:
Preliminary results indicate localized areas (<0.02 km2) of subsidence of the order of up to 3 mm per year in urban areas built on reclaimed marshland. These results suggest that the contribution of local land subsidence affects only small areas along the southeastern coast of Florida, but in these areas the risk of coastal flooding is significantly higher compared to non-subsidence areas.
The subsidence is also being driven by freshwater abstraction from the region’s groundwater reserves to accommodate the growing population of the Miami metro area.
As the comparison in Figure 2 shows, “only small areas along the south-east coast of Florida” are affected, and Miami itself hardly needs to be evacuated.
Climate activists like Cohen and his media cronies at The Nation simply fabricate claims and rely on no one to point out their lies, as has happened here. It is an indictment of the poor state of journalism today.
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