No location is completely safe from climate change, but Miami’s future looks particularly challenging.
The city’s sea levels are rising at faster rates than in other areas of the world, already resulting in floods, contaminated drinking water, and major damage to homes and roads.
In an April statement to Business Insider, environmental author Jeff Goodell referred to Miami as “the poster child for a major city in big trouble.”
That hasn’t stopped high-profile architects from rolling out luxury developments in Miami that boast beachfront access and ocean views.
The latest example is a two-story penthouse that went on the market last year, at an asking price of $68 million. The property comes with two private elevators, a Jacuzzi, a personal fitness center, and 18,000 square feet of outdoor terrace space.
Its building, Eighty Seven Park, was designed by legendary architect Renzo Piano, whose other projects include the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Shard in London, and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.
If the penthouse sells for more than $60 million, it could nab the record for the most expensive condo ever sold in Florida.
But a handful of decades from now, the building could find itself underwater.
A 2018 report from the Union of Concerned Scientists suggested that 12,000 homes in Miami Beach are in danger of chronic flooding within the next 30 years. That puts around $6.4 billion worth of property at risk – the most of any coastal community examined in that report.
This situation highlights a paradox in the modern real estate market: Waterfront homes often fetch the highest prices, but they’re also the most vulnerable to sea-level rise. Even after a major disaster like a hurricane or flood, buyers tend to hold steady in their coastal preferences.
Scientists say dramatic sea-level rise is inevitable if climate change continues unabated.
In a 2016 study published in the journal Nature Climate Change, scientist Mathew Hauer examined the risk of sea-level rise in the continental US. His findings showed a “super concentration” of at-risk residents in Florida’s Miami-Dade and Broward counties. From 2010 to 2100, Hauer said, these counties could account for one out of every four people affected by sea-level rise in the US.
If Miami doesn’t plan for this disaster scenario, Hauer said, “the price is really, really high.”
Last year, Forbes contributor Bill Springer asked David Martin, the CEO of the development company behind Eighty Seven Park, about the threat of flooding in Miami. Martin said he understood the city’s “complicated environmental situation,” and that his company, Terra, is dealing with it by diversifying its projects and the sites where it builds.
While it’s hard to anticipate the exact amount of sea-level rise coming this century, the US National Ocean Service suggests that global sea levels rise about an eighth of an inch per year. That puts the nation on track to see nearly 6 feet of sea-level rise by 2100.
Under these conditions, Hauer said, Miami communities could see a severe impact.
“I’m not sure that [Miami] can adequately plan for 6 feet,” he told Business Insider. “It’s water level as high as I am.”
When he first starting working on his study, Hauer said, 6 feet was considered the highest prediction of sea-level rise by the end of the century.
“Now it’s 10 feet,” he said, “which is not good for places like Miami.”