Can the Miami ocean and sky do their stormy-Florida thing without summoning a tempest of worried climate-change prophets cowering in their slickers?
Seasonal Miami flooding has recently been called a direct consequence of climate change, depicted with sinister language such as “walls of seawater,” “corrosive,” and “ever-rising waters” reaching “Old Testament” proportions.
Robin McKie, science editor for the Guardian, observed that high spring and autumn tides spill annually over the west banks of Miami Beach and fill storm drains and gutters, sometimes flooding streets. The effect, he writes, “is calamitous,” ruining cars and blocking the way to shops and houses.
Miami is susceptible to this flooding, McKie explains, because of its geology. Ocean water pools in the pores of Floridian limestone. Beachside condos lie perilously close to the edge of the sea, with little land reaching over six feet above sea level. The majority of U.S. citizens who live at an elevation of four feet or less reside in south Florida.
The facts that McKie believes signal a climate change disaster are more like typical features of flat beachfront property in a hurricane-prone part of the world.
But there’s more to the Miami climate-change argument. McKie quotes Harold Wanless, a geology professor at the University of Miami, who cites a ten-inch rise in sea levels over the past two centuries. Wanless predicts the sea level will increase much more in much less time, perhaps rising ten feet in the next 85 years.
Indeed, McKie said Florida Republican senator Marco Rubio has “refused to act or respond to warnings” of resident experts such as Wanless. Although $1.5 billion is being invested in projects aimed at stemming the rising tides, McKie laments that “few scientists believe [these efforts] will have a long-term effect.”
It would take the proverbial heart of stone not to laugh at McKie’s dire warnings, coming as they do after President Obama’s scientific conclusion that global warming is also causing the drought in California — a state that until this year was apparently as green as Ireland and famous for its mighty lowland watersheds, daily thundershowers, and vast rain forests.
The flooding in Miami is “not a climate change thing, nothing like that,” National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen told National Review Online. “This is our rainy season.”
Miami has experienced a particularly wet June and early July, according to Feltgen, but the heavy rain causing the flooding is not new or unprecedented. Urban flooding is a common Miami phenomenon, and this season hasn’t been abnormal.
An article in Time magazine reacted to McKie’s portentous piece. While affirming the reality of climate change, Michael Grunwald said the problems wreaked by Florida floods have been inconvenient at worst, calling the Guardian article an example of “yellow climate journalism.”
Grunwald said that McKie “also claims that the water then ‘surges across the rest of the island,’ which simply isn’t true.”
Changes in Florida sea level aren’t unprecedented. One study in the Journal of Coastal Research shows that the best measurement methods indicate the Sunshine State’s sea level has fluctuated above and below its present position constantly for the past 3,000 to 5,000 years.
A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration study of the causes of flooding in the Miami area found that surface wind stress, rather than temperature or melting glaciers, is “the most important force that affects ocean water levels in a coastal flood situation along the west-central coast of Florida.” Tides overflow into the low land of Miami Beach because it’s really, really windy on the ocean there.
The causal factors involved in any instance of inclement weather are complex, and regarding climate change, they are inconclusive.
— Celina Durgin is a Franklin Center intern at National Review Online.