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.”