‘American Atlantis’: Rolling Stone Imagines End of Miami Due to Climate Change

Contributing editor uses outlandish predictions to say ‘Goodbye Miami’ from 24-foot storm surge.

Rolling Stone magazine really ought to stick to music and entertainment, instead of trying to get into science fiction. In it’s latest issue, the magazine presented the fictional destruction of Miami due to rising seas and climate change, which relied on “pessimistic” projections of how much the seas will rise.

Pessimistic barely covered it. Jeff Goodell’s article “Goodbye Miami” in the July 4 issue wasn’t journalism at all. Instead it’s dark fantasy in which he painted a picture of rising seas and global warming (caused by fossil fuels of course) that devastates the South Florida city.

He wrote of an epic storm: “When the water receded after Hurricane Milo of 2030, there was a foot of sand covering the famous bow-tie floor in the lobby of the Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach. A dead manatee floated in the pool where Elvis had once swum. Most of the damage occurred not from the hurricane’s 175-mph winds, but from the 24-foot storm surge that overwhelmed the low-lying city.”

How could this happen? Well, in Goodell’s imagination, “with sea levels more than a foot higher than they’d been at the dawn of the century, South Florida was wet, vulnerable and bankrupt.”

But then he set aside his illustration and claimed Miami is truly in danger of being drowned. He wrote, “the unavoidable truth is that sea levels are rising and Miami is on its way to becoming an American Atlantis. It may be another century before the city is completely underwater (though some more-pessimistic scientists predicts it could be much sooner).”

And he is certain that it will be the fault of “climate denier” politicians and fossil fuels. “The loss of Miami will be a manifestation of years of denial and apathy, of allowing Big Oil and Big Coal to divert us from understanding the real-world consequences of our dependence on fossil fuels,” Goodell claimed.

He quoted a scientist who warned that the city was “doomed,” and NASA’s James Hansen who he described as  “the godfather of global-warming science.” He said Hansen thinks sea levels could be 16 feet higher by the end of the century. Hansen has made some really wrong predictions in the past including in 1988 when he forecast a 0.45 degrees Celsius increase in global temperatures by 1997. By that time, temperatures were only 0.11 degrees Celsius warmer.

The article also failed to admit that in late 2012, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association had found that global sea levels had risen at less than half the rate claimed by the IPCC from 2005 to 2012. They rose about a half inch per year, which at that rate would be only a bit more than 5 inches in 100 years. Not the six to 16 feet discussed in the Rolling Stone.

So even though sea levels have been rising slower than forecast, Goodell claimed, “Most modeling scenarios show that waters are likely to rise much higher and faster than scientists had predicted a few years ago.” The then presented “one plausible scenario:” of sea levels rising one foot between 2030 and 2045, two feet (2045-2060), three feet (2060-2075), six feet (2100).

Goodell’s fictional scenario was reminiscent of a laughable fake news story from The Boston Globe's "Earth: Our Children's Peril" series from May 31, 1992. In it, reporter Ross Gelbspan imagined that in 2030, “In sports, tonight's game between the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago White Sox was called off when Chicago was blanketed with impenetrable smog ... Meteorologist Yojio Matsuma says the smog originated 1,000 miles away in the Saskatchewan prairie fires, which have seared several thousand square miles since lightning storms sparked an area left tinder-dry by a three-week heat wave and an unusually dry spring ... Meanwhile, the commissioner's office says it is not yet ready to consider a resumption of day games, which were eliminated 15 years ago following widespread increases in skin cancer and immune diseases due to the depletion of the ozone layer.”

In that same story, Gelbspan wrote that “by many measures, human activity since 1950 has damaged the planet more than in all previous history.”

Twenty years later, the “journalistic” game plan hasn’t changed – pitching science fiction instead of science.