JAN FRAN: "One of America's most iconic cities is sinking and no one is noticing."

If seeing is believing, then Donald Trump should take a trip to Miami.

A few weeks back I took a boat ride around Miami Beach with Dan Kipnis, a retired boat captain and Miami local of five decades. The shoreline is littered with multi-million dollar homes, huge multiplexes in the works, dozens of cranes lurking in the distance.

You would have no idea, but this is one of the most vulnerable places on earth.

I was in the south Floridian city for SBS Dateline, to report on populations in America whose communities are, right now, under threat from rising sea levels.

When you think climate change you don’t immediately think Miami, right? Climate change is often seen as a threat to small coastal villages in the Arctic. But Miami is not a small coastal fishing village, it’s one of the largest cities in America and to put it bluntly; it’s sinking. Slowly but surely.

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A study by the University of Miami showed in the last decade alone flooding in Miami Beach has increased by 400 per cent. In an interview with the Miami Herald, the study’s lead author said, “I was completely shocked when I found it was rising so fast.” The city has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years trying to stem flooding in Miami Beach. Roads have been raised, pumps have been installed, and levees have been built.

But it’s a Band-Aid solution. Today it’s fine – tomorrow it might not be.

Walking around Miami, it was hard to fathom that the very streets I was walking on, the skyscrapers in the distance, the cars zipping about the roads, might no longer be there 100 years from now.  For me though, the question is what will happen to all the people? What will happen to the millions of people who call Miami home? Where will they go?

jan fran

Jan Fran: If Donald Trump wants to see the impact of climate change, go to Miami. Image via Facebook.

I was with Dan Kipnis for a reason; he’s already got an answer to that question. His double story brick family home with its double garage and its in-ground pool, a home he helped build, is now on the market. Dan is selling his house and leaving Miami because of climate change. It sounds like a drastic move right? To leave the life you know because of what may or may not happen in the future. But he’s adamant that he doesn’t want to hang around and see what becomes of his city – or the price of his home – in the next few decades. And he’s lucky because he can move, he has the money and the time to start a new life in a new place, not everyone does.

Climate change is as much about the environment as it is about the people it affects and right now Miami appears the same as any other city; a metropolis going about its business, but over its head hangs the spectre of rising seas.

My crew and I arrived in Miami in the wake of Hurricane Irma. Lately, after natural disasters, there’s always discussion about how much climate change is to blame. Geology Professor Harold Wanless from the University of Miami says human-induced climate change doesn’t cause hurricanes, it exacerbates them. So it didn’t come as a huge surprise to him that Irma was the most powerful Atlantic Ocean storm in recorded history.

It may be alarmist to blame Hurricane Irma squarely on climate change, but it’s perfectly within reason to anticipate an Irma 2.0 to hit sooner and harder than expected. It’s not out of the question to expect Category 6 storms to become a reality (Irma was a Category 5).

The people of Miami know something is going on. They live with the realities of rising sea levels every day. “The thing that sinks in is when, you say, you just bought your condo here and you may not make it through a 30 year mortgage and be able to sell it,” says Professor Wanless.

Irma hits Florida. Image via Getty.

But that’s how it will likely happen. As sea levels rise and it gets more difficult to maintain homes and roads and livelihoods, people will stop investing their money in Miami, those already there will leave and the economy will slump. It’s little wonder climate change has become that which shall not be named.

Florida has literally banned employees within the state’s Department of Environmental Protection from using the terms ‘climate change’ and ‘global warming’ in official correspondence. Perhaps Florida’s governor Rick Scott is on the same page as his President.

Donald Trump has called climate change many things; “bullshit”, “mythical”, an “expensive hoax”. He’s called it a concept “created by and for the Chinese” based on “faulty science” and “manipulated data”. In fact, he’s tweeted more than 100 times about climate change and each time he does, he casts doubt about its very existence.

So, if seeing is believing, the President should take a trip to Miami.

Watch the full Dateline report - America’s First Climate Change Refugees on Tuesday 24 October at 9.30pm on SBS.

Jan Fran is a journalist, presenter, emcee and social commentator. She currently hosts The Feed on SBSVICELAND and is a regular commentator on The Drum, Lateline, ABC News Breakfast and Triple J’s Hack.