Does Future Miami really flood like this?

Films that mention global warming are rare. As someone who cares both about cinema and the end of the climate we know and depend on, I’m always looking for signs of the slightest overlap between the two. My heart leaps at the news of any new apocalyptic weather-related feature, even though the result is, say, a deeply wacky and scientifically implausible allegory of class warfare that literally makes no scientific sense (Snowdrops) or a thrill ride that never once mentions climate change, but is shy enough to let you see whatever you want to see (Mad Max: Fury Road).

But there has been something over the past few years that has made me less patient with these crumbs. It could be the fact that the six largest wildfires in the California Book of Records have occurred in the past two years, or the past eight years, five have been the hottest in U.S. history, where July 2021 was the hottest month on record (the archives in question date from the 1880s –the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum was obviously warmer). The time for vague allusions is over, and the time is near for films to work a little more on building the specificities of their future climates.

This is the first in a series of scientific and political fact checks of various climate-related films. This first opus was inspired by the reading Disposable city (Bold Type, 2020) by Miami-based journalist Mario Alejandro Ariza, shortly after watching Reminiscence, the sci-fi inundated noir of the future Miami from filmmaker and Westworld co-creator Lisa Joy (released this summer, now streaming on HBO Max).

In an interview with sci-fi author Charlie Jane Anders, Joy said that while she didn’t want to do Reminiscence on Climate Change (the plot of the film is a pretty standard “What’s Going On?” with this mysterious lady? ”potboiler), Joy did want to show off its effects. “I wanted it to be concrete. I’m not even going to discuss it: the waters have risen. She adds:

In the film, we consciously put far fewer cars on the streets. We have dealt with the architecture in a way that shows how you can block some water and turn a large part of the energy sources into solar panels. But you can also see that it’s pretty late in the game when we do that, and a lot of people have suffered, and there is still inequality in the way drylands are distributed.

As soon as people realize that this is the new reality, Joy concludes, they might start to wonder how to stop it.

May be? Or, the public might just take it as a sign to write off Miami as a doomed city. Who has to say? That is not the question we are here to ask. That question is: how scientifically and politically realistic is it Reminiscence?

Actress Rebecca Ferguson on the set of Reminiscence. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

It’s so hot outside that people mostly go out at night

Fact check: definitely

According to a study published in Nature Climate Change, by 2100, Miami residents will experience between 100 and 200 days of deadly heat per year (“lethal heat” is calculated based not only on temperature, but also on humidity, so the weather can reach deadly heat before temperatures rise above 100 ° F). Miami Doctors already report an increase in health problems in residents who cannot escape the heat.

What’s less certain is that a protagonist like Hugh Jackman, who wears a button-down shirt and long pants for most of the movie, could do so without both sweating and passing out quickly. Climate projections make it very clear that without eliminating nearly all carbon emissions, the Miami of the future will be an unwelcoming place for classic film noir fashion.

Meanwhile, in Anders’ interview, Joy gets rhapsodic about this aspect of dystopian Miami and its uses as a plot. “In the old black, the darkness is when things go wrong… In this world, the darkness is when people can go out and live their lives, because it’s so hot. Crime and true darkness – moral darkness – occurs in the scorching light of day. In the Miami of the future, however, darkness may not really be a respite during heatwaves, as nights are heating up faster than days across the world.

Parts of Miami are so inundated that Hugh Jackman can have quite a fight scene in an underwater concert hall.

Fact check: doubtful

The kind of sea level rise that can permanently flood the entire ground floor of a concert hall is higher than the most extreme climate projections for Miami-at least by 2100. But, as written by Mario Alejandro Ariza, the most likely sea level rise by 2100 is five or six feet – not enough to flood a concert hall, but far more than necessary to threaten the viability of Miami’s drainage system (six inches ) or render hundreds of thousands of septic tanks across Miami-Dade County unusable (two feet). In that future, Hugh Jackman may not be underwater, but he will have a bacterial infection and microscopic dinoflagellates.

There are solar panels everywhere

Fact-check: please so be it.

Florida is consistently ranked as one of the best states in the United States for the potential for solar deployment – there is so much sun tHis nickname in solar circles is “The Sleeping Giant”. It has also been regularly ranked as one of the worst cities for solar energy like regarding politics.

Things change. Florida power and light blew up its last coal-fired power plant earlier this year, and replaced it with a solar center. But public services and legislators always work together to make small-scale solar power as unattractive as possible for taxpayers.

That said, there’s no mention of existing utilities even in Reminiscence, and it’s hard to imagine that all of this electrical infrastructure is still running under all that seawater. So maybe this future Miami is out of the picture. Grid ?

Miami is surrounded by seawalls that protect the city’s inner ring from the ocean

Checking the facts: nice try

Miami has dikes and pumps to return the water behind them to the ocean. The Corps of Engineers of the Army proposes to build even more. But these mainly serve as protection against storm surges. Miami is being built on old limestone which is riddled with small holes – a geological configuration that is often compared to Swiss cheese. As Leonard Berry, professor of geosciences at Florida Atlantic University, told the Senate Energy Committee, flood barriers are too expensive and impractical in these circumstances– the water you are trying to keep from entering will rise from the ground, as it already does in sunny floods.

The rich and the powerful take over all the mainland

Checking the facts: it’s already happening

Miami already has the third highest income inequality in the United States (after San Juan, Puerto Rico and Atlanta, Georgia). During the 2008 financial crisis, Ariza writes, 30 percent of Haitian homeowners in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood lost property, in part due to abusive mortgages with poor terms and a temporary collapse in real estate values. If these owners had been able to refinance these mortgages, they could have held this property long enough to see the land value rise again – instead, speculators, see cheap real estate at an altitude almost unheard of for Miami at 15 feet above sea level, broke in and began building developments that current residents could not afford to live in. Similar stories play out in Liberty City (8.5 feet above sea level) and West Coconut Grove (10 feet above sea level).

As Ariza writes in Disposable city:

If Miami survives, it will be a place where high-density mixed-use development invades the heights of the Atlantic Coastal Ridge, a thin line of ancient coral reef with an average elevation twice that of the surrounding drained swamps. Instead of maintaining the low density of suburbs “everything is a fifteen minute drive”, Miami will need to move to crowded neighborhoods connected by efficient public transportation.

In other words: it doesn’t have to be that way. Miami may live up to New Orleans and New York as the star attraction of climate dystopias, but it can – and, hopefully, will – write its own story.

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