Not with a Bang, or a Whimper. A Tink.

The bridges of Coral Gables, Florida, have become harbingers of the havoc to be wrought by climate change.

The mayor of Coral Gables, Florida believes the world will end not with a bang, but a tink — the sound of an aluminum mast striking a steel girder. That sound, he explained to Bloomberg News the other day, will be the manifestation of climate change that crashes the Florida real estate market and brings on the Apocalypse. Okay, he didn’t say anything about Apocalypse. But his explanation, and the fact that Bloomberg gave it a lot of attention, is striking evidence of the growing awareness of the inevitability and imminence of the ultimate disaster that is climate change.

Coral Gables is a suburb of Miami, a planned community built in the original boom of the 1920s on the coast just south of the larger city. It is home to the University of Miami and the Miami Biltmore Hotel. The essential word in Florida real estate is “waterfront,” and Coral Gables has nearly 50 miles of coastline. (Technically, it’s bayfront, but here the chain of barrier islands, known here as keys, are so far out to sea — Key Biscayne is the nearest — that for all intents and purposes the Coral Gables waterfront is seacoast.)

The original designers of Coral Gables styled it as the Venice of Florida, and graced it with miles and miles of canals. Whether or not it was really their purpose at the time, the canals created thousand and thousands of waterfront lots, now highly valued by skippers who love the idea of parking their yachts in the back yard — properties on the canals comprise about one quarter of the entire value of real estate in Coral Gables. But because we were and remain a car-loving nation, Coral Gables also has, of necessity, your normal network of roads. Which cross, and recross, the canals on bridges. 302 bridges.

Aye, there’s the rub, as Hamlet said.

The sea level at Coral Gables has risen four inches since 1992, and is rising now at a rate of an inch a year. The world’s glaciers are melting, and the oceans are expanding, as the average temperature inches ever higher. In South Florida, seawater is lapping up onto inland streets and properties, in the absence of any storm, with increasing frequency. Salt water is intruding into the aquifers that provide the area’s drinking water. Sea level is expected to rise three more feet by 2060. (South Florida is also in Hurricane Alley, at risk from stronger and more frequent hurricanes, also because of climate change, but that is another story.)

Pretty soon now, Mayor Jim Cason reckons, we will hear the tink. The first mast will strike the first bridge, announcing that there is no more access to the open sea for sailing boats from Coral Gables’s canals. Property values inland from the bridges will tank. The willingness of buyers to buy, lenders to lend, and insurers to insure will all be severely constrained. Loss of revenue will cripple the city, making it ever less desirable as a place to live or even visit.

But here’s what’s so important about this, and what Mayor Cason understands about it; what the mast hitting the bridge will do is pop the bubble of denial that allows people to function as if the climate isn’t changing, the sea isn’t rising, the storm isn’t coming, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Business as usual persists. The band on the deck of the Titanic keeps playing. We appreciate the people who keep telling us that everything is alright, we resent those who see doom coming, as if they were bringing on the doom, not warning us to get out of the way.  

In six years, the median price of homes in the Miami area has risen 120%, much faster than the sea level and twice as fast as values in the rest of the state. And yet mayors, and the mainstream business press, are now talking openly about the end of the road. Already, people in South Florida are selling out and moving away to avoid the rush. They are outliers, and few in number, but Bloomberg found them, and interviewed them. The lemmings have started to move. The mayors are not sleeping well.

hey hear things in the night, going “tink.” And “pop.”


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11 Responses to Not with a Bang, or a Whimper. A Tink.

  1. I left Florida 15 years ago, refusing to live where I couldn’t buy rather than rent. And why buy if you are underwater before the mortgage is paid off? No one interviewed me.

  2. Tom says:

    There you have it, short and sweet. Great job, Mr. Lewis, explaining in clear language what the real deal is. Sure, the legislators can be made to not mention climate change, but it’s occurring on all fronts all the time now.

    It’s not just sea level rise, but Florida is currently plagued by drought and huge wildfires, invasive species of snakes (and other critters), and their on-going battle with the little beasties that do real harm to their giant fruit industry hasn’t let up (though it’s currently out of the media spotlight).

    We tend to concentrate on the money aspect of these changes, but the cost is actually incalculable since everything is changing with all these factors (and more) impacting concurrently. That’s the trouble with monetizing everything, one incorrectly assumes that whatever was effected can simply be replaced or repaired with an influx of more money. When it comes to wildlife dying off (all over the planet), such as the 1.5 BILLION less birds in the sky, there’s a ripple effect through the biosphere, especially the food chain. So when the unseen plankton in the ocean die, people scratch their heads at the dead whale in the harbor and wonder why, unable to connect the dots.

    Returning to sea level rise, it’s now happening “faster than expected” because up until recently scientists believed that Antarctica was stable, protected from a warmer atmosphere. The discovery that many of the HUGE ice sheets and shelves are being melted from below by warmer CURRENTS came a “surprise.”

    Physicists, such as Paul Beckwith can describe in detail the forces at work, measure the effects and try to predict the future, but STILL deny that any kind of extinction is at work, because they don’t comprehend the BIOLOGY involved.

    Fukushima, BY ITSELF, is an extinction event that’s currently playing out with no technology yet invented to “fix” it. On top of that, we have the warming and acidifying oceans, the melting glaciers and ice sheets, drought and heat deaths in places like India and Pakistan (not to mention sub-Saharan Africa and others), but ALSO severe COLD weather, crop ruining hail and ice storms in Europe and all the other reactions to human bungling, greed, pollution and overpopulation (to name a few of our detrimental contributions to climate change).

    We’re “lead” by politicians who only get their positions because of their unwillingness to change the status quo, which is killing the planet. So we can’t expect Beckwith’s plea for a “climate emergency” declaration to be heeded or acted upon (it’s far too late anyway).

    Instead, it looks like the “masters of the universe” (aka fucking idiots) are planning NUCLEAR WAR.

    Stay tuned, because it can happen any day now.

    • InAlaska says:

      You can add to Florida’s list of future fun the emergence of resistant Zika virus or something worse as Nature attempt to combat our presence on this Earth.

      • David Veale says:

        It’s not just Florida that’s at risk. Last year, for the first time, I noticed a strange new mosquito on my arm here in Michigan. They’re quite distinctive, with black and white banding, and rear legs that curl up. I googled around, and found that they’re “Asian Tiger mosquitos” — and they are believed to carry Zika as well.

  3. Liz says:

    People will start sailing in & out only at low tide, and switch to smaller boats. Maybe even kayaks! They’ll pipe in drinking water and keep the party going just a little longer.

    • Davebee says:

      I admire your glass half full approach…Just one teensy little fly in the ointment that I detect with your ‘civil engineering’ solution to Florida’s little prob (and for the rest of the planet as well)
      Who the phuk is going to PAY for that clean water and where is it going to come from anyway?
      Have a nice day now.

      • Susan says:

        You’ve heard of the huge Everglades restoration project, right? That’s where the water is coming from. It has nothing (or very little) to do with ecosystems. Yet our Gov is going to fund it with the self-imposed sales tax we voted for land conservation. Just sign me, grumpy North Floridian, esp grumpy when all those Miamians move up here. (And I think Liz was engaging sarcasm.)

    • shastatodd says:

      and we can expect us to double down on stupid and spend billions on sea walls to mitigate our “non-negotiable” lifestyles… oh, humans… smh

    • InAlaska says:

      some entrepreneur all invent a mast that folds down easily. They will make millions of dollars on it for a few years…

  4. Susan says:

    Oh, yeah, nobody uses sailboats down here anymore. They all have motor yachts. I don’t think they ‘tink’ when they hit the bridge.

  5. What continues to amaze me, has for what must be going on decades now, is the continuing inflow of population to this state that is pretty much a cultural, political and environmental “don’t.” Family is the only thing that takes me to this god-forsaken state, and for the life of me I do not see the attraction. There are other places in the country to avoid the cold and/or live on the water. The best thing about visiting Florida is leaving it.