It was party time this past weekend on his first visit as president to what Donald Trump calls his “winter White House” in Palm Beach. Over 550 guests came to the annual Red Cross Ball held inside the ballroom of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club estate, chauffeured in to the sprawling complex and walled off from streets where twice as many chanting protesters got as close as they could to the beachfront property. Their peaceful rally stretched for more than two miles.
Trump’s South Florida getaway, built by the Post cereal tycoon in the 1920s, covers 20-some acres between the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic. Mar-a-Lago is one of several properties boasting the president’s name in the area. And the future is not looking good for their inhabitability, maybe sooner than the real estate magnate might think.
Here’s what a risk analysis prepared for the Guardian newspaper recently showed: “The water is already creeping up bridges and advancing on access roads, lawns and beaches because of sea level rise….In 30 years, the grounds of Mar-a-Lago could be under at least a foot of water for 210 days a year because of tidal flooding along the intracoastal waterway, with the water rising past some of the cottages and bungalows.” (See the report by Coastal Risk Consulting.)
While Trump appoints climate change deniers to run his various agencies, and tweets about the very idea being a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, a bike path along the waterway already floods during the much more extreme “king tides” that come with the full moon. Brackish water, forced to the surface by rising sea levels putting pressure on the water table, can be seen bubbling from the ground.
At lower elevations south of Mar-a-Lago, water is already pooling in the road in front of Trump’s Hollywood, Florida condos following only minor cloud bursts. That’s where the “pristine beaches” are advertised on the Trump company website, beckoning people to shell out $3 million for a three-bedroom unit. Maybe Trump should pay heed to a survey showing that two-thirds of high-end realtors in Miami are worried about climate change hurting their property values?
Harold Wanless, a professor and chairman of the University of Miami’s Department of Geological Sciences, says that the scientific models underestimate how fast the seas are rising. “Many of Florida’s waterfront properties (including yours) are vulnerable to even minor increases in sea level because of erosion and storm surge,” Wanless and other Florida scientists wrote Trump in a letter requesting a meeting to talk about climate change. They added: “This is not a distant threat. Climate change is making an impact today.”
Sea-level rise has indeed accelerated over the past decade due to the ice cover collapsing in Antarctica and Greenland, and also the weakening of ocean currents including the Gulf Stream. And South Florida is the “poster region” for the impacts, with the average rate of sea-level increase since 2006 tripling by about three-and-a-half inches.
In Miami Beach, local officials are allocating hundreds of millions of dollars to install pumping stations and raise roads. Its entire western sector is expected to be under water by 2060, as the oceans rise by two feet. Closer to Trump at Delray Beach, where the ocean has started crashing over bulkheads and inundating marinas, they’re spending millions on special valves and pumps to keep the sea water out of storm sewers.
About one-third of the mayors in south Florida are working on strategies to protect their towns. Palm Beach recently changed its construction code to require higher seawalls around new waterfront homes. In 2016, the town initiated a 20-year, $120-million infrastructure plan that means overhauling a dozen pumping stations to propel storm runoff up a huge pipe to the Intracoastal Waterway.
All told, six of the ten urban centers in America considered most vulnerable to storm surge are in Florida, according to a 2016 report from CoreLogic, a real estate data firm. The ten tidal floods currently being experienced annually in southeast Florida are expected to increase to about 240 floods a year by 2045.
“South Florida’s drinking water supply will be compromised,”says a report by Florida Atlantic University, “and as a result, human health will become more susceptible to the exposure of waterborne diseases. Additionally, water shortages that may arise due to saltwater intrusion will place intensified economic stress on local communities, contributing to mental health disorders.” (So much for affordable care, right?) The same report cites the Florida Everglades as one of the major at-risk areas.
Another new report, Global and Regional Sea Level Rise Scenarios For The United States, was just issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in partnership with the EPA, the U.S. Geological Survey, and Rutgers University. Dr. Marshall Shepherd, Director of the Atmospheric Sciences program at the University of Georgia, addressed the findings in a column published in Forbes on January 25:
“The lowest scenario story line projects that global seas will rise by 1 foot (a big problem) by the end of this century. The worst scenario finds up to 8 feet of sea level rise over the same period (a very, very big problem). A recent study published in Nature Climate Change estimated that 2.9 feet of sea level rise places 4.2 million U.S. residents at rise. That same study increased the number to 13.1 million residents for 5.9 feet of sea level rise. The authors of that study point out that such displacement could rival the Great Migrations of racial groups in the 20th century. We have already seen examples of the U.S.’s first climate refugees being resettled from places like Louisiana and Alaska.”
And so it goes, while the incoming administration removes any mention of carbon pollution as a cause of climate change from the EPA website, along with striking all references to international cooperation and Obama-era federal climate plans.
It makes me long for climate karma to make landfall at Mar-a-Lago. Does anyone else see irony in the lavish International Red Cross Ball being hosted here by the Trumps, with this year’s theme being “Vienna to Versailles.”