By Xavier Cortada, the Underwater Home Owners Association
Next week, we, the people of the United States of America, are going to make a decision that will critically impact how we will spend the rest of our days on this planet, how future generations will live on this planet and how many more pandemics we will bring to it.
Politicians focus on the here and now. On Election Day, let’s remind them that our lives continue beyond their terms of office.
Unless they change our current course of action, skyrocketing carbon emissions will continue to heat the planet, melt polar caps and bring catastrophe to a peninsula defined by water. Florida will endure increased sea-level rise, more coastal flooding, saltwater intrusion into our freshwater aquifer, prolonged and record-breaking heat waves, extreme weather, (including stronger, stalled and wetter hurricanes), ecosystem collapse, more pandemics and, eventually, a weakening of the Gulf Stream.
Ancient ice-core samples show that for the last 800,000 years, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have fluctuated between 200 parts and 300 parts per million. Temperature increases and decreases over time perfectly track these shifts.
Scientists have found that it normally takes tens of thousands of years to make those 100 ppm shifts. But in the past century, because of our addiction to fossil fuels, we have pushed CO2 levels from 300 ppm to over 400 ppm. This hasn’t happened in more than 800,000 years.
As of last month, our planet’s atmospheric CO2 concentration is at 415 ppm — unprecedented in human history. This year has been Miami’s warmest year on record. Unless we do something about it, in the next 30 years alone, at least 100 days out of every year will feel like at least 100 degrees, according to a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists. At this pace, the future will bring unimaginable suffering to our species.
Warming of this magnitude will have huge implications on food security, economic growth and human health. The heat will melt glaciers, destroy Arctic permafrost, shrink polar sea ice and cause Antarctic ice sheets to collapse. Climate change will not just melt the poles, it will transform every point in between.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, depending on how seriously we address our collective greenhouse-gas emissions, sea levels are projected to rise between 3 feet and 7 feet by the end of this century.
This water will not recede like the tide. Rising seas will arrive at every American coastline, wreaking havoc. FEMA and insurance companies will not be able to absorb the monumental costs. Homeowners and communities will be left alone to endure the losses.
Saltwater intrusion will poison our freshwater aquifer and threaten not just our drinking water but also our landscape and agricultural industry. It will raise the water table, causing septic tanks to fail. The threat of ever-rising seas will increase flood-insurance premiums and eventually banks will not issue 30-year mortgages. That, in turn, will pop Miami’s real-estate bubble and cause property values to collapse.
The warming atmosphere fuels hurricanes that are stronger (Maria), wetter (Harvey) and more likely to stall (Dorian). This spells trouble for Miami. With an additional 3 feet of sea-level rise, another Hurricane Andrew would generate a storm surge that would crest over our coastal ridge and inundate the western part of our county, all the way to the Everglades.
Let’s all talk to each other and make sure we elect leaders who will address our climate emergency. We need to elect a president who will bring us back to the Paris Agreement, divest from fossil fuels, and invest in clean energy.
Xavier Cortada is an artist and professor at the University of Miami Department of Art and Art History. In 2018, he founded the Underwater Home Owners Association.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.