News Release

Florida and “How the World Breaks”

STAN COX, cox at landinstitute.org, @CoxStan
Cox is co-author of the 2016 book How the World Breaks: Life in Catastrophe’s Path, from the Caribbean to Siberia. He is research coordinator at The Land Institute.

He co-wrote the piece “A Rising Tide: Miami is sinking beneath the sea — but not without a fight” for The New Republic.

In addition to writing extensively about Miami, he has also written in depth about Naples: “My parents retired in Naples at an RV park, so I spent a lot of time there. It’s a playground of the rich, who snatch up all the waterfront property and have the yachts, so you’ll see property damage for them, but there are also loads of low-income people and immigrants there to serve the construction, landscape, and service industries (and further inland, agriculture). They will suffer badly, and will have poorer recovery prospects than the affluent Neopolitans. I expect my parents’ former neighbors at the RV park are having quite a hard time right now.”

He just wrote the piece “100 Percent Wishful Thinking: The Green-Energy Cornucopia” and noted the new Wall Street Journal piece on the perils of maldevelopment: “Building Boom Puts Millions in Irma’s Path.”

He said today: “The way we ‘develop’ a place is part of the problem. Some economic stimulus is adding fuel to the fire, this is true for Miami because of its extraordinary vulnerability to sea level rise, as well as other parts of Florida. For decades, we’ve been building in places that should have remained as ecological buffers. Irma is showing that with the intensity of hurricanes being pumped up by greenhouse warming, threats are not just to places like Tampa, but to inland areas many thought were safe, like Orlando.

“In the immediate aftermath of such disasters, economists and Goldman Sachs types always tell us not to worry, that our economy is so big and resilient that the city or state that endured the disaster will quickly recover and return to its growth trajectory. In fact, we’re told, disasters provide economic stimulus: the construction and remodeling industries boom; car sales rise.

“We are already hearing this about Harvey, and will hear it even about Irma and the devastation it wreaked on an entire state.

“This idea — that in large economies, disasters of any size or ferocity can easily be folded into the cost of doing business — is a dangerous one.

“It ignores the toll in human misery that can never be undone by economic growth.

“It can lead people, including policymakers, to conclude that climate change won’t be such a big deal, that if we fail to rein in greenhouse emissions, we can just ride out the disasters that ensue.

“It fails to consider whose economy is going to recover and be just fine. The benefits of the economic stimulus will go to the top of the economy, where they always go. People and communities who were barely making ends meet before the disaster will find it difficult or impossible to recover.

“The way we ‘develop’ an area is critical. The real estate boom economy has always ignored the possibility of such disasters. But a disaster doesn’t befall a city, a city befalls a disaster.”

Cox wrote about the impacts of development in Naples in a previous book, Losing Our Cool.