On October 21, COSEE Florida hosted the second event in its series on the impacts of climate change, Miami’s Changing Environment. “Costs of Miami’s Changing Environment: How Will it Affect You?” engaged participants in a discussion on the economic effects of climate change and sea level rise in Miami, highlighting the often unfortunate reality that climate change does impact our daily lives. More than 45 people attended to learn the future economic concerns and to get their questions answered.
The evening began with Dr. David Letson, a professor of Marine Affairs and Policy dually appointed to University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and the Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy. Dr. Letson is an expert in the economics of extreme weather and climate variations. He spoke about the vast amount of capital and economic investments that are at risk in South Florida due to sea level rise and associated issues, such as nuisance flooding and storm surge. By 2030 it is estimated that $69 billion of Florida property will be at risk of high tide inundation, with the estimate rising to $152 billion of property at risk by 2050. Storm-related losses will be rare but catastrophic, with an estimated increase of $1.3 billion per year by 2030 and an additional $4 billion per year by 2050; total losses will likely top $17.2 billion per year by 2050. Dr. Letson explained that while current technology, such as drainage pumps, can provide protection from nuisance flooding, communities are often made more vulnerable to loss in a storm surge or extreme flooding event because the implementation of these tools are “Band-Aid” fixes.
The second speaker of the evening, Hernan Guerrero, is an architect and town planner for Dover, Kohl & Partners in Coral Gables, and Co-Chair of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Sea Level Task Force. His more than fifteen years of experience performing urban analysis and urban planning projects made him uniquely qualified to speak about the impacts that climate change will have on the urban fabric, economy, and society in Miami. By 2050, Miami, New York City and New Orleans will be the top 3 cities in the United States with the highest annual flooding cost. Mr. Guerrero provided some creative design solutions to tackle the development and construction issues faced in South Florida.
As an architect and town planner, Mr. Guerrero proposes design can mitigate some of the projected future losses and allow the climate change to occur smoothly. He suggests innovative and inclusive design where water is not excluded from neighborhoods, but included in smart ways that allow it to flow freely in canals along sidewalks so that it won’t flood homes. When towns don’t provide places for water to exist safely in neighborhoods, it leaves people vulnerable to property loss. He also referenced design solutions proposed in Germany, such as designing buildings where the first floor is 20 feet above the street. That way storm surge will not damage property or cause a risk to life. Another smart design, proposed in New York City, was to submerge old train cars to create an artificial reef/wetland along the coast of Manhattan. These submerged structures will dampen the impact of storm surge the same way that coral reefs and mangroves provide this service along healthy tropical coastlines.
Quinn Eddins followed, speaking about sea level rise from a commercial real estate perspective. Mr. Eddins is the Florida Director of Research and Analysis at CBRE, which is a worldwide leader in real estate services, and provides many commercial real estate industries the research they need to plan the financial future for their companies. As CBRE's "thought leader" for the Florida region, Mr. Eddins monitors, analyzes, and reports on economic trends that impact the state's real estate markets, and has recently published work on sea level rise’s impacts on commercial real estate insurance. One of the issues Mr. Eddins brought up is the fact that improvements to flood-defense infrastructure is necessary but too costly, which means increased losses will occur in the future. With the current increase in development, even with adaptation that maintains the same flood probability as today, by 2050 the U.S. may see $9.9 billion in losses every year in the 17 largest coastal cities due to floods, and without any adaptation can see $200B losses per year.
With the influx of money from Latin America, development in Miami continues to rise. However, one of the solutions Mr. Eddins proposes to slow development and force developers to consider climate change is to allow private flood insurance to shape development. Currently, the National Flood Insurance subsidizes high-risk properties that cannot and will not be insured by private insurance companies. If developers were forced to obtain private industry insurance, and no longer had access to the National Flood Insurance, they would need to develop only in areas and with building designs that they could prove would lead to minimum losses. In this way private insurance companies can be a mechanism to force developers to build responsibly with Miami’s future in mind. Mr. Eddins’ research engaged the audience and stimulated lively discussions about insurance and when to buy or sell property in Miami.
The night concluded with a lesson on the costs and benefits of different greenhouse gas emissions regulations from Dr. David Kelly, who is a professor of Economics at the University of Miami. His research interests include the economic costs and benefits of environmental policy, especially when it comes to climate change and growth, environmental policy in developing countries, and environmental regulation. The discussion lasted nearly an hour after Dr. Kelly’s presentation concluded, with questions about the pros and cons of cap and trade or emissions taxes as regulatory tools in the United States.
One of the things Dr. Kelly mentioned is that current environmental policy provides subsidies and tax incentives for electric cars, however he feels this is a poor model that slows the progress of green technologies. Instead, Dr. Kelly suggests that the government institute a cap and trade (or emissions tax) on high-emissions vehicles such as SUVs. By increasing the cost of high-emissions vehicles, low-emissions vehicles will be the cheaper alternative. This will also encourage car companies to explore all green technologies and not be limited to just electric cars. He pointed out that when policy allows the market to pick and choose technology, we are often limiting innovative technologies that haven’t been developed yet, but by adding a penalty to traditional fossil fuel cars, the limit is removed and there is also more funding for new green technologies to emerge.
If you weren’t able to make it out to this event and want to find out what was discussed, check out the twitter conversation on Storify.
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If you missed this informative and thought-provoking event, don’t worry! There will be two more opportunities to learn about climate change impacts and solutions in Miami with COSEE Florida. Please join us on November 16th at 6:30pm at Fado Irish Pub in Brickell for a Workshop on Miami’s Changing Environment: A Night of Action, and on December 8th at 6:30pm at Gramps in Wynwood as we learn about Communicating Science in Miami’s Changing Environment.