Climate change and Miami, it's on everyone's mind.President Barack Obama walks along the White House colonnade after making a statement on the landmark climate change agreement reached earlier today in France, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Climate change and Miami, it’s on everyone’s mind.
photo: President Barack Obama walks along the White House colonnade after making a statement on the landmark climate change agreement announced in France, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

But South Florida’s problems also run deeper. The whole region—indeed, most of the state—consists of limestone that was laid down over the millions of years Florida sat at the bottom of a shallow sea. The limestone is filled with holes, and the holes are, for the most part, filled with water. (Near the surface, this is generally freshwater, which has a lower density than saltwater.) [The New Yorker]

IT’S THE subject that made The New Yorker, as well as Vanity Fair. Climate change is killing Miami, while Marco Rubio and Republicans, especially in Florida, stick their heads in wet sand. This is happening as Miami enjoys a sort of renaissance.

Leave it to culture to be at the heart of what’s happening in Miami, as the water continues to drown the area. Not everyone is a fan of Art Basel, but it’s bringing the rich to Miami again.

Perhaps the greatest engine of the city’s current boom is Art Basel, the Switzerland-based art fair, which, in 2002, established a Miami Beach outpost, one that now effectively takes over the city for the first week of December. Marc Spiegler, Art Basel’s current director, admits that he was among the skeptics 13 years ago when his predecessor, Sam Keller, set up the fair’s satellite operation in South Florida. At the time an art journalist, Spiegler attended warily, concerned that the resort town lacked the requisite facilities and art-world history. “I was not convinced,” he said, “that a show with medieval roots could work in a place like Miami Beach. Basel has been a cultural capital for centuries.” But Spiegler is now a convert. There is such a strong “cultural infrastructure” in place, he said, and such a variety of places to stay and things to do, that “we’re not just parachuting in as a pop-up anymore.” And he went on, “When people look back upon this period in Miami Beach’s development, I think it will be judged to have had a similar impact on the landscape as the Art Deco period.”

Miami is in trouble.

Climate deniers are part of the problem.

The same features that now make South Florida so vulnerable—its flatness, its high water table, its heavy rains—are the features that brought the Everglades into being. Before the drainage canals were dug, water flowed from Lake Okeechobee, about seventy miles north of Miami, to Florida Bay, about forty miles to the south of the city, in one wide, slow-moving sheet. Now much of the water is diverted, and the water that does make it to the wetlands gets impounded, so the once continuous “sheet flow” is no more. There’s a comprehensive Everglades restoration plan, which goes by the acronym CERP, but this has got hung up on one political snag after another, and climate change adds yet one more obstacle. The Everglades is a freshwater ecosystem; already, at the southern margin of Everglades National Park, the water is becoming salty. The sawgrass is in retreat, and mangroves are moving in. In coming decades, there’s likely to be more and more demand for the freshwater that remains. As McVoy put it, “You’ve got a big chunk of agriculture, a big chunk of people, and a big chunk of nature reserve all competing for the same resources.”

The best that can be hoped for with the restoration project is that it will prolong the life of the wetland and, with that, of Miami’s drinking-water system. But you can’t get around geophysics. Send the ice sheets into “irreversible decline,” as it seems increasingly likely we have done, and there’s no going back. Eventually, the Everglades, along with Shorecrest and Miami Beach and much of the rest of South Florida, will be inundated. And, if Hal Wanless is right, eventually isn’t very far off.

President Obama’s leadership on climate change resulted in a historic agreement. It won’t be enough if Republicans and a few Democrats don’t wake up and look into the future, instead of staring straight down at their feet.

Worse still, the United States is the only country in the democratic world that has a major party that questions the scientific theory of anthropogenic global warming. Conservative parties abroad often take more market-oriented, or perhaps less-ambitious, approaches toward limiting carbon emissions. But the stance taken by the Republican Party, in which respected leading figures endorse kook conspiracy theories, is simply not heard anywhere else. And even the Republican leaders who hesitate to openly endorse conspiracy theories utterly dismiss any international action to limit greenhouse-gas emissions. – Jonathan Chait [New York magazine]