Cognitive dissonance and societal dysfunction in dealing with the challenges of global warming: Miami real estate edition: Sarah Miller: Heaven or High Water: "Selling Miami's last 50 years: 'Sunny day flooding' is flooding where water comes right up from the ground, hence the name, and yes, it can certainly rain during sunny day flooding, and yes, that makes it worse. Sunny day flooding happens in many parts of Miami, but it is especially bad in Sunset Harbour, the low-lying area on Miami Beach’s west side. The sea level in Miami has risen ten inches since 1900... will rise in Miami Beach somewhere between 13 and 34 inches by 2050. By 2100, it is extremely likely to be closer to six feet, which means, unless you own a yacht and a helicopter, sayonara. Sunset Harbour is expected to fare slightly worse, and to do so more quickly. Thus, I felt the Sunset Harbour area was a good place to start pretending to buy a home here. Amazingly, in the face of these incontrovertible facts about the climate the business of luxury real estate is chugging along just fine, and I wanted to see the cognitive dissonance up close...

....Lying is not my favorite, but when it’s called for the only thing to do is jump in with both feet. So when the first agent—tall, fair, polite bordering on stern, possibly Swiss, possibly Swedish—asked, “Do you live in Miami now? Do you know what kind of place you’re looking to buy?” I said, “I live in San Francisco and my husband is in tech.” I gave a coy twist to the wedding ring I’d put on in my hotel room. “We’re looking for—a place to hang out when it gets really rainy (lol) and then to retire to (roflmao).”... I asked how the flooding was. “There are pump stations everywhere, and the roads were raised,” he said. “So that’s all been fixed.” “Fixed,” I said. “Wow. Amazing.” I asked how the hurricanes were. He said that because the hurricanes came from the tropics, from the south and this was the west side of Miami Beach, they were not that bad in this neighborhood. “Oh, right,” I said, as if that made any sense....

Later, I texted Kristina Hill, an associate professor of urban ecology at the University of California, Berkeley, whose main work is helping coastal communities adapt to climate change. I told her that a real estate agent had just told me hurricanes were weaker near Sunset Harbour, because it was in the east side of Miami, and hurricanes come from the south. She wrote back, “That’s ridiculous!” The next open house was not far and I decided to get lunch beforehand in Sunset Harbour. I popped into a store where the sidewalk had been raised. “There used to be flooding here,” the owner said, as she folded a soft sweater. She had long dark hair and, as seemed to be de rigueur in Miami Beach, lash extensions. “But they put in pumps and it’s been fixed.” “So I hear,” I said. “Yeah,” she said. “It’s amazing.” “I don’t know if I understand this,” I said. “The sidewalk is raised, but—where does the water go?” “Into the drain,” she said. “Well. Except for one time. One time the store was flooded. But it’s fixed.” “Great!” I said. “Yeah, it’s fixed,” she said. She put her hand over her heart in an expression of extreme gratitude.

The next real estate agent.... I was worried that when I came out with my questions, her demeanor would change. But just as charmingly as she received my greetings and compliments on the layout of the kitchen and, on her shoes, she said sure, there was a problem, but if anything was going to happen, she thought it would be more like in fifty years than thirty. It’s amazing that people in these situations tell you what they think. I think bread actually takes twenty minutes to bake, she said, removing the doughy mass from the oven. I think I can drive a car after I’ve run out of gas, he said, as he rolled silently into the breakdown lane. I did not say this; I said nothing, because I did not have to, because—fiddling attractively with a circular gold pendant at her tan throat all the while—she continued to talk. “The scientists, economists, and environmentalists that are saying this stuff, they don’t realize what a wealthy area this is.” She said that she lived here and wasn’t leaving, and that the people selling Miami were confident, and all working on the same goal as a community to maintain this place, with the pumps and the zoning and raising the streets. There were just too many millionaires and billionaires here for a disaster on a great scale to be allowed to take place....

The ideal buyer for this place was someone who was okay with the street and lobby being full of water for the next twenty years at which point they might actually have to leave, unless it all got “figured out,” but if it didn’t that would be fine, because they’d never been concerned. And apparently those people exist, lots of them. “A lot of people just buy something here, they keep it for five years, and then they sell it,” she explained....

I kind of thought that I was crazy, listening to these people tell me these streets were raised, the buildings were raised, there were pumps, it was all good. I spoke to Astrid Caldas, a senior climate scientist with the Climate & Energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. According to their projections, by 2030, there will be fifty days of sunny day flooding per year. By 2045, there will be 250 per year. She then confirmed my suspicion that while the raising of buildings was good for the buildings, it didn’t do much for the well-being of those living inside. “Yes, you do need to be able to get out of the building to get medicine and groceries,” she said. “If all the streets are flooded, what then?”...

Then there is the problem of walls. The Big Plan in the Netherlands depends on walls. Since Miami is built on limestone, which soaks up water like a sponge, walls are not very useful. In Miami, sea water will just go under a wall, like a salty ghost. It will come up through the pipes and seep up around the manholes. It will soak into the sand and find its way into caves and get under the water table and push the ground water up. So while walls might keep the clogs of Holland dry, they cannot offer similar protection to the stilettos of Miami Beach....

>She said she had a lot of family in Italy, and began to talk about Venice, where she had been many times. “And yes, at high tide the water from the sea comes into the city, right into the Piazza San Marco. And it’s horrible.” Her enormous green eyes widened, reflecting the horribleness. “They are going to have to get something for the people to walk on, for the tourists. They’re going to have to put something so the people can walk on top. But every year they say the same thing about Venice, that it’s going to go down.” She made a face like, how do those idiots say this?... As we walked down the stairs to the first floor, she turned to look at me. She was very earnest, standing very close. I felt her beauty soak into me. “It’s Miami,” she said. “We are surrounded by water! There’s not a solution. But nothing is going to happen!”

#noted

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