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Rising Oceans A Slow-Moving Disaster, But Also A Business Opportunity


It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath. Miami is being swallowed by the Atlantic Ocean. It's a slow-motion disaster. It's also a business opportunity. Laura Parker writes about how South Florida is planning for sea level rise in the latest issue of National Geographic.

LAURA PARKER: If you look out 50 years, Miami can expect a hotter climate, rainier periods with more severe storms, possibly more hurricanes and sea level rise - anywhere from two feet up to six-and-a-half feet by the turn of the century.

RATH: Now, in spite of the expectations of more severe storms and rising seas, there are businesspeople in Florida who are, in a way, capitalizing on the expectations of more flooding. Can you talk about the businessman that you talked to? His name was Frank Behrens.

PARKER: He's an interesting case. He represents a Dutch firm called Dutch Docklands. And they are trying to get the necessary permits to construct what is known as a floating village on a lake north of Miami Beach. Dutch Docklands wants to place 12 individual, private islands on the lake, which they say will be hurricane-proof. They will be tethered to the bottom of the lake. They are advertising this as being a sort of a climate change-proof venture.

RATH: What about the political side of things? Florida Governor Rick Scott famously said, I'm not a scientist. He's avoided the issue of climate change, for the most part. But there are some local Miami-Dade County politicians who are making plans based on rising sea levels. Can you talk about that?

PARKER: When I went to Miami to do the reporting on this story, I encountered the full gamut of thought on this from a fellow I met wearing rubber boots during the October King Tide with water up halfway up his calf who told us that there is no sea level rise occurring and this is not right, all the way to scientists who are suggesting that part of the planning process should include plans to decommission infrastructure of the region and not leave remnants of the city behind and things that could be pollutants behind for the folks who come after us. Those are the two extremes. And everything else runs in between that.

RATH: There is, you know, this disconnect - this kind of paradox, I guess - that runs in various ways throughout your piece - that, you know, there's this crisis. And there's an opportunity in the crisis as well. There's this optimism and this building boom, but at the same time, fears about property insurance rates that could cause the housing market to collapse. How is the government approaching that problem?

PARKER: Let me give you one example from the head of a sea level rise task force. The chairman of this, Harvey Ruvin - he's been in Florida and Miami and politics for a very long time. And he brought in Swiss Re, the global reinsurance - a couple of executives to sort of spell things out. Basically, the message was that you guys need to make a plan. Mr. Ruvin says, you know, they needed to hear this message - these members of this group and various other officials. And they've started on a plan. And so they're proceeding with it. But that's - insurance is a critical component of these discussions.

RATH: You can read Laura Parker's article on rising seas in South Florida in the February issue of National Geographic. Laura, thanks very much.

PARKER: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.