Policy versus science over Miami building collapse

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By: Spencer Hayes

A building collapse that took the lives of almost 100 people has devastated the Miami Surfside community. It has also reignited the climate change discussion across the country.

It will take some time for the building analysis to be completed, however, many theories are already circulating, attempting to answer questions behind the collapse of the Champlain Towers on June 24. One theory that has spurred attention is whether or not climate change played a role in the building collapse.

Aftermath of the Champlain Tower collapse in Miami Florida. (Photo by Giorgio Viera / AFP) (Photo by GIORGIO VIERA/AFP via Getty Images)

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm jumped right in stating that rising sea levels may have contributed to the disaster. In a CNN interview, Granholm said that an analysis of the building is necessary before making any decisions about what could have caused the collapse, but also said “sea levels are rising.”

Granholm suggested that as the climate continues to change, society needs to adapt to survive. This includes living sustainably, regulating energy and engineering buildings.

Granholm’s discussion of climate change as a possibility for the collapse created a wave of negative responses. Fox News compiled many Twitter users’ responses to Granholm’s interview calling the claims “ghoulish” and “parody”. One response came from the editor of National Review, saying “there’s nothing that can’t be blamed on climate change.”

Dr. Scott Sheridan, a Kent State University climatology professor, said it is very plausible that sea levels rising could have had an effect on this issue.

“When you have a very flat place like the barrier islands in the Miami area, increasing sea level by relatively small amounts means water can move inland pretty far,” he said.

Sheridan also said that this area does not have an organized drainage system to expel the water away from the city. Areas that are experiencing daily flooding are gaining infrastructure problems that are being ignored.

With 94 million U.S. residents living in coastal counties, the impact goes way beyond one Miami condo building. The coastal areas have experienced an unprecedented amount of new construction. Sheridan says that without more responsible building plans it will end up “costing cities and governments of whatever sort a lot of money to deal with in future decades.”

As a climate scientist for 21 years, Sheridan has seen a lot of political discussion around climate change turn “ugly” lately. 

Following the uproar Granholm’s theory caused, Sheridan commented on the political climate regarding topics such as climate change.

“We have all factionalized,” he said. “Everyone gets angry if you have some sort of contentious conversation.”

Sheridan believes that the conversation of climate change has become contentious because today’s culture puts policy ahead of science.

“The proper way of thinking is you should understand the science which then guides policy,” Sheridan said. “To say we should invest a lot of money to make ourselves safe 50 years from now, you know, makes a lot of rational sense, but from a political stand point it’s a hard sell.”

The feasible monetary impact of sea level rising is concerning: sea levels rising could cost 14.2 trillion dollars by the end of the century. If future plans for construction across the country are not made responsibly, members of other coastal communities may be impacted like those in Miami.


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