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Scottish firm expands oil and gas business after ‘green transition loan’

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Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Exclusive: Wood Group boosts fossil fuel business and shrinks renewables work after getting £430m government-backed loanThe international engineering company Wood Group has expanded its oil and gas business and dramatically shrunk its renewables business after receiving a £430m government-backed “green transition loan”, prompting calls from environmental groups for a review of the process that authorised the loan.The growth of Wood’s fossil fuels business has shown that the government’s “transition export development guarantee” scheme, which guaranteed the loan, facilitates greenwashing and is open to abuse by polluting companies, according to environmental groups. Continue reading...

Exclusive: Wood Group boosts fossil fuel business and shrinks renewables work after getting £430m government-backed loanThe international engineering company Wood Group has expanded its oil and gas business and dramatically shrunk its renewables business after receiving a £430m government-backed “green transition loan”, prompting calls from environmental groups for a review of the process that authorised the loan.The growth of Wood’s fossil fuels business has shown that the government’s “transition export development guarantee” scheme, which guaranteed the loan, facilitates greenwashing and is open to abuse by polluting companies, according to environmental groups. Continue reading...

Exclusive: Wood Group boosts fossil fuel business and shrinks renewables work after getting £430m government-backed loan

The international engineering company Wood Group has expanded its oil and gas business and dramatically shrunk its renewables business after receiving a £430m government-backed “green transition loan”, prompting calls from environmental groups for a review of the process that authorised the loan.

The growth of Wood’s fossil fuels business has shown that the government’s “transition export development guarantee” scheme, which guaranteed the loan, facilitates greenwashing and is open to abuse by polluting companies, according to environmental groups.

Continue reading...
Read the full story here.
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How the shift to electric vehicles is fueling the UAW strike

"The EV transition must be a just transition that ensures auto workers have a place in the new economy.”

At the stroke of midnight on Friday, in three automotive factories across the Rust Belt, night shift workers left their posts and poured out onto the streets to join whistling, cheering crowds. TV news footage from the night showed picketers intermingled with cars honking in support as R&B blared from sound systems on the sidewalks in front of the factory gates. For the first time in history, the United Auto Workers union, or UAW, initiated a strike targeting all of the “Big Three” automakers: Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis, which owns brands like Chrysler, Jeep, and Dodge.  The strike marks a breaking point after months of negotiations failed to result in a deal to renew the union’s contract with Big Three automakers, which expired on Friday. For now, the strike covers only 13,000 workers at a General Motors plant in Wentzville, Missouri; a Stellantis plant in Toledo, Ohio; and a Ford assembly plant in Wayne, Michigan. But the three closures could be just the beginning. UAW president Shawn Fain has warned that all 146,000 union workers are ready to strike at a moment’s notice. “If we need to go all out, we will,” said Fain Thursday night on Facebook Live. “Everything is on the table.”  If the work stoppage goes on for more than 10 days, analysts estimate it could cost automakers over $1 billion and hurt plans to push new electric vehicles, or EVs, onto the market. EVs, and what they mean for the future of union labor in the automotive sector, loom large over the picket line. Automakers say meeting the union’s demands would threaten their ability to compete with non-unionized EV producers like Tesla, adding burdensome labor costs just as they’re making expensive investments in EVs. Workers, meanwhile, worry that billions in EV investments aren’t translating into good-paying, union jobs. Employees work at the assembly line of the Volkswagen ID 4 electric car in northern Germany on May 20, 2022. David Hecker/AFP via Getty Images “It’s our job to organize,” Tony Totty, president of UAW Local 14 in Toledo, Ohio, told Grist. “These corporations don’t wanna share in our sweat equity with the profits we provide them.”    Collectively, the Big Three have committed to investing well over $100 billion in EV manufacturing over the next few years. The companies have also proposed 10 EV battery plants owned jointly with companies including South Korea-based LG Energy Solution and Samsung. Most new EV and battery plants are located in a growing “Battery Belt,” with Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee leading the charge alongside the traditional automotive heartlands of Michigan and Ohio. Many of those states have “right to work” laws that curtail collective bargaining, leading to lower union density and lower pay grades overall. Indeed, the vast majority of the Big Three’s proposed battery plants are nonunion.  To keep union membership strong, protect worker safety, and prevent the EV surge from undermining their bargaining power, the union has asked to include EV battery workers in their national contracts. “Now is really the moment, as the industry starts to take off, to ensure that those jobs can be union jobs,” J. Mijin Cha, an environmental studies professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz who studies labor issues and climate justice, told Grist.  Ford and Volkswagen have estimated that 30 percent less labor is required to build an EV compared to an internal combustion engine car, since EVs don’t require the complex parts needed to build engines and transmissions. Meanwhile, non-union automakers like Tesla and Toyota are gaining an edge in the EV space, and offering substantially lower compensation than the Big Three. Ford has estimated the Big Three’s average hourly labor costs, including benefits, amount to around $65 per worker, compared to about $55 for foreign non-union automakers in the U.S. like Toyota and Nissan. Tesla’s labor costs are even lower — at around $45 to $50 per worker per hour, according to industry analysts.  Auto workers are watching this change with some trepidation, according to Marick Masters, a professor of management at Wayne State University who studies the auto industry and labor. “The shift to electrification both threatens jobs and it also threatens to establish another lower tier of wages in the industry,” he said. The UAW has so far had a string of organizing failures in the South, mostly associated with the region’s large number of foreign automakers, like Volkswagen and Nissan.  Totty, the Toledo-based UAW local president, has advocated heavily for union contracts at new battery plants. He personally welcomes the EV shift. His plant, Toledo Propulsion Systems, received $760 million in federal funding to transform the transmission plant into a plant that makes EV parts. Totty doesn’t believe it’ll take much extra training, or that anyone at the plant will lose their job. “We’re embracing it,” he said. What’s more concerning to him is the power and income imbalance between the people who do the backbreaking work at the plant, and the people who own it.  Read Next The fight for worker safety protection heats up at the Phoenix airport Katie Myers Among the UAW’s demands for its new contract is a 40 percent raise over the next four years, which it says is equal to the collective rise in CEO compensation at the Big Three over the past four years. The union has also asked for cost of living adjustments, the reinstatement of pensions, a 32-hour work week, and the elimination of a tiered wage system that pays newer employees less for the same work. So far, the three companies have countered with a 20 percent raise. As of Monday, the companies had not agreed to most of the union’s other demands.  In an interview with the New York Times, Ford CEO Jim Farley claimed that meeting UAW demands would prevent the company from investing in EVs. “We want to actually have a conversation about a sustainable future,” he told the Times, “not one that forces us to choose between going out of business and rewarding our workers.” According to the union, the companies continue to make record-breaking profits, netting over $21 billion in just the first six months of 2023 and $250 billion over the last 10 years. Though the vast majority of those profits come from internal combustion engine cars, with EVs still a relatively small market, the auto companies are already tapping into billions of dollars in federal investments to electrify their fleets.  EVs are central to President Joe Biden’s climate agenda. Through the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, the Biden administration has authorized nearly $100 billion in funding dedicated or availables to support growth in the industry’s domestic supply chain. It’s part of Biden’s plan to, according to a recent Department of Energy EV funding announcement, “Create Not Just More Jobs But Good Jobs, Including Union Jobs.” More than $15 billion of that number is intended to support existing factories in the EV transition, in hopes of keeping manufacturing jobs in communities that rely on them. The administration has also made aggressive regulatory moves to push for EVs — under vehicle emissions standards released by the Environmental Protection Agency in April, EVs would need to make up two-thirds of all car sales in the U.S. by 2031. Masters says that auto companies are responding to this pressure. “The companies,” he said, “are on board, and their train has left the station. They’re going out of the internal combustion engine business.” Read Next Biden’s EV charger rollout has begun. Will it deliver on environmental justice? Naveena Sadasivam Some are calling the UAW strike the biggest labor crisis of the Biden presidency so far. The UAW has not yet endorsed Biden as a presidential candidate, citing inconsistencies between the administration’s push for EVs and its close ties with the labor movement. The union has previously criticized the president for lending billions to auto companies for EV manufacturing without requiring protections for union labor. UAW leaders have asked Biden to hold firm on his promises to deliver union jobs with clean energy investment, or else risk the energy transition exacerbating economic inequality. The strike will continue, UAW has said, as long as parties fail to reach a consensus. Workers are organizing at Big Three factories across the country, preparing to shut them down if the moment calls for it. Experts say that a long-term strike could seriously hurt sales at the Big Three, possibly giving companies like Tesla a competitive edge. “The UAW supports and is ready for the transition to a clean auto industry,” Fain said in a release. “But the EV transition must be a just transition that ensures auto workers have a place in the new economy.” This story was originally published by Grist with the headline How the shift to electric vehicles is fueling the UAW strike on Sep 18, 2023.

Copper boom sparks conflict between mine and residents of Northern Cape town

We visited Concordia, where 29 people were arrested for protesting against a mineThe post Copper boom sparks conflict between mine and residents of Northern Cape town appeared first on SAPeople - Worldwide South African News.

Conflict has erupted in Concordia, a small and rocky town of 5,000 people in the copper district of the Northern Cape.Copper 360, a JSE-listed mining company, has started mining in the town through its subsidiary Shirley Hayes-IPK (SHiP). Over the next few years, the company intends to extract thousands of tonnes of copper. This comes after Copper 360 announced a massive increase in its copper resources in the area.Right on the edge of the town is Wheal Julia, an old copper mine that has been resurrected by SHiP.Faced with their quiet way of life being upended, many oppose the mining taking place so close to their doorsteps. Moreover, few Concordia residents expect to get employment from the mine.Concordia is a Namaqualand “kleindorpie” (small town). It’s a 20km drive north-east of Springbok. The surroundings are rocky, sparse and semi-arid — except during the brief spring flower season when Namaqualand is blanketed by colourful wildflowers.A sign at the entrance to Concordia greets residents.The town used to be reserved for coloured people under apartheid. Nearly everyone here speaks Afrikaans as a first language.Much like the surrounding towns of Okiep, Springbok, and Nababeep, the town has a rich mining history. The entire Nama Khoi Municipality is centred around mining, which is the largest economic contributor and employs many of the residents of the municipality.About a five-minute drive from the town, on a dirt road, is Jubilee mine, owned by SHiP. Here, on 9 August, community members protested outside one of the mine’s gates. Reports are conflicting, but apparently stones were thrown between Concordia residents and mineworkers, most of whom are from Nababeep, about 20km away. Nevertheless, by the afternoon everyone went home.A protest took place at Jubilee mine in August.Then in the evening police officers went door-to-door in the town and arrested 29 people in their homes. Northern Cape police spokesperson Timothy Sam said that they were “investigating a case of public violence following the arrest[s]”.Shereen Fortuin, a Concordia community leader, said she was arrested outside her home at about 10pm on the day of the protest. A few people were jailed at Springbok, a few at Steinkopf, and the rest at Nababeep.“People who came and did nothing were arrested. That’s the way things are done,” said Fortuin.The arrested were released the next day.GroundUp met community leader Shereen Fortuin in Springbok, about a 20km drive from Concordia.Residents oppose the mining for several reasons. Some are convinced the company is mining illegally, but the company says that it has complied with legislation. It is the proximity of the mining to their homes that is the root of their concerns, and what this will mean for the future of the town.“They’re not coming to the table to tell us what is going on,” said Fortuin. Though the company provided the community with mining permits issued from the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE), residents say there has been a lack of consultation. They are worried about the intensity of the mining activity over an area which covers just over 19,000 hectares.At 69-years old, Billy Cloete was the oldest person arrested.Billy Cloete was the oldest person arrested after the protest in August.Cloete lives alone in his house in the centre of the town. The long cobblestone road to Cloete’s front yard was covered in flowers when we visited him. He worked in mining for 43 years. By the time he retired he had worked his way up to being a superintendent. More than once Cloete insisted that he is “not against development”.“It’s about the way they want to mine,” he said. “When I saw the areas where they want to work … I can’t let this happen to the people here.”He said he worked with explosives frequently throughout his mining career and explosives used in mines today are a lot more advanced than he used, he said, with a blast radius of 500m. “Mining is a fun thing. But it is also a very dangerous thing,” he said.He worries about pollution, the gases the explosives might let off, and whether people’s homes will be damaged. “I don’t have long to live anymore. I’m not worried about myself. I’m worried about our next generation.”“I’m very against the way they are doing things here in Concordia. The community is not being recognised.”This is a map from Copper 360’s 2019 Heritage Impact Assessment compiled by ASHA Consulting. The green circle was added by GroundUp to indicate Wheal Julia’s approximate location. The red dots are the locations of Jubilee and Homeep mines.Environmental Impact AssessmentCopper 360 and SHiP’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notes the use of explosives and the “potential risk” of “dust, noise and vibration associated with blasting of ore underground at two mines, Rietberg and Homeep, and in the open pit at Jubilee. All three of these mines are close to Concordia.The EIA also notes potential pollution of groundwater that the mines would then have to treat.The EIA states that the company will employ 178 people directly and will benefit at least 20 local businesses.Wheal JuliaThe area has a rich history of commercial copper mining stretching back to the 1800s. Commercial mining started in the 1860s. For many years copper ore was transported by the Cape Copper Company on the Namaqualand railway running from the towns of Okiep, Concordia and Nababeep (known today as the Okiep Copper District) to Port Nolloth harbour on the West Coast.Mina Henn lives on the outskirts of Concordia. This is the view of Wheal Julia mine from her home.In the 1940s the Okiep Copper Company (OCC) started operating and extracted ore at various sites during a copper boom. One such historic mine is Wheal Julia, located in Concordia. Jubilee, where the protest took place on 9 August, is also a historic mine.Right opposite the Wheal Julia mine, on the outskirts of Concordia, lives Mina Henn in a large eight-bedroom house that she and her husband moved to in 1978. She recalled how children stole apricots from the tree at the front of the house. The tree is still there.“My father worked for the mines. My husband worked for the mines … You could say the mines have always been the only big jobs,” said Henn.Mina Henn is worried about how mining will affect her.Nevertheless Henn is worried about how her house will be affected by mining at Wheal Julia and whether it will become dangerous for her and her family to live here much longer.Arthur Cloete, a cattle farmer, told us that Namaqualand’s dependency on mining has caused a lot of “social ills”. When the OCC closed down its mines in the early 2000s, people lost their jobs and were left in “social ruins” because the mines brought no long term benefits. He is concerned about how cattle farmers on the outskirts of Concordia will be affected by the mining at the Rietberg mine.He says the older people worked on the mines for “‘n appel en ‘n ui” (an apple and an onion – an Afrikaans idiom meaning very little). “It has always been our land. Our community never benefited. The day the mines closed, we were left with nothing,” said Cloete.Copper 360 CEO Jan Nelson recently gave Mining Weekly an extensive interview. He said the company is currently “looking at about R12-billion to R15-billion worth of copper in the ground”.Nelson also said Wheal Julia “is a surface deposit that’s yielded fantastic results”.Nelson only responded briefly to GroundUp’s detailed questions and request for an interview. He emphasised that the mining activity was all legal.But is mining at Wheal Julia legal?The Concordia Communal Property Association (CPA), which falls under the Transformation of Certain Rural Areas Act (TRANCRAA), runs recently established communally-owned land. The land rights were officially handed over to the community in late 2022. On 14 February 2023, the title deed for the land was successfully transferred to the CPA, “solidifying their status as the landowner”, according to Nama Khoi Local Municipality spokesperson Jason Milford.A community meeting was held on 24 August at the Concordia community hall. Over 100 residents attended. CPA chairperson Nuchey van Neel, addressing the meeting, said that the community had not been properly consulted about the intensity of the mining activities that would take place. This is despite a public consultation process that was held in 2020, an important component of any mine’s environmental impact assessment.“People didn’t understand exactly what would happen with this mining activity, where it will be, how it will affect people, and who will eventually get something out of it,” said van Neel.The Concordia community met on 24 August.Henk Smith is a lawyer who has for decades been representing communities in the Northern Cape against mines. He is now representing the Concordia community. At the meeting he stated that Copper 360’s EIA did not deal with Wheal Julia, and that SHiP had not been granted a permit to start mining there. (Other than reiterating that their activities were legal, Copper 360 did not address our question about this.)The EIA indeed only mentions three mines: Rietberg, Jubilee, and Homeep.As a result, Smith said, the permit given by the DMRE was flawed.And anyway, Smith added, “The law says you cannot mine within a town.” Community members cheered at this.He said Jubilee and Wheal Julia should be rehabilitated rather than resurrected. “It’s not for new mining and extractive industries,” said Smith. Several residents then took turns to voice their opposition to the mine.Lawyer Henk Smith has been representing mining companies in the Northern Cape for decades.ALSO READ: Northern Cape launches R80 Million enterprise fundIn his response to GroundUp Nelson said: “We record that the Copper 360 group of companies remains committed to the communities where it will be conducting mining operations, which includes Concordia. We are guided by our principles and values to improve the lives of those people, and future generations in the communities we engage with.”The DMRE acknowledged receipt of our questions but did not respond.Concordia is home to about 5,000 humans and a few other creatures.Published originally on Groundup | Liezl HumanThe post Copper boom sparks conflict between mine and residents of Northern Cape town appeared first on SAPeople - Worldwide South African News.

The ocean is rising — and so is Miami’s skyline

Some of Miami’s most valuable real estate is also its most vulnerable as sea levels rise. But that’s not stopping new construction in these areas. | Umair Irfan/Vox The coastal city wants to build its way out of climate change. Is that smart? A shrill industrial alarm buzzes inside the dimly lit hangar, warning everyone that an 8,400-horsepower machine made of 12 towering yellow fans is about to power up. Normally that’s a cue for everyone to get out of the way, but in hard hats and goggles, Steven Diaz and a half-dozen visiting scientists stand on a turntable, where the paths of the fans converge. A high-pitched whine gets louder and is quickly overwhelmed by the sound of rushing air. An unseen operator ramps the wind speed up to 30 miles per hour, and gusts whip at their clothes. It holds for a minute. Then the fans power down. “He’s being conservative with this,” said Diaz, the site operations manager for this laboratory. Indeed, this is a tiny fraction of the power of these fans, which can drive winds up to 157 mph, the threshold for a Category 5 hurricane. “I don’t think you would be able to stand on the turntable with the fans at full speed,” Diaz said dryly. “It would blow you back.” The aptly named Wall of Wind at Florida International University in Miami is meant to blow back buildings. The hangar doors on the other side of the fans open out to a grass lot surrounded by netting to catch any stray debris. Here, inside the world’s most powerful hurricane simulator, scientists test structures, from scale models to full-size replicas, against the forces of nature. They inject water into the airflow to mimic downbursts and spray bubbles to track the eddies and currents. They watch with high-speed cameras and monitor pressure sensors to see how well different designs stand up to storms. Umair Irfan/Vox Steven Diaz, operations manager for the Wall of Wind, explains how the facility simulates hurricanes. Umair Irfan/Vox The Wall of Wind can move air at speeds up to 157 miles per hour. Miami is at the water’s edge of understanding exactly how buildings fall apart under hurricanes and how to make them stand up to future storms. Results from labs like the Wall of Wind help officials decide where buildings can be built, what materials they need to use, and even what kinds of roofing nails are required. The lab is part of a research initiative that emerged in the wake of Hurricane Andrew, a gargantuan storm that walloped South Florida in 1992. At the time, it was the most expensive and most destructive storm to ever hit the US. In response, city, county, and regional officials began updating building codes, while researchers brought a more scientific approach to the changing hazards in the region.As rising average temperatures alter the realm of what’s possible, researchers are bracing for even more severe scenarios. FIU last year began upgrades to the lab to simulate winds up to 200 mph and storm surges as high as 20 feet, conditions that could afflict Miami in the future. From there, the process of testing, developing new codes, and deploying them in the real world will begin again. By 2040, Miami will have sea levels anywhere from 10 to 17 inches above where they were in 2000, though studies this year found that sea levels have already risen around Florida faster than expected. When a cyclone rolls in, a few inches of sea level rise can lead to several more feet of storm surge — and billions of dollars more in damages. Yet Miami is seeing a construction boom with tower cranes cropping up in thickets amid the high-rises, building taller on the coast’s notoriously soft, water-logged soil. Miami-Dade County recently reported a population decline, but it’s the first drop after decades of intense growth. From 2010 to 2020, the metro region’s population rose by more than 660,000, creating intense demand for offices, stores, hotels, and homes. Umair Irfan/Vox Construction is booming in Miami. Miami’s enduring magnetism in the face of growing risks from climate change has made it a laboratory in its own right, with experiments in how revised building codes, novel construction techniques, and resilient urban design fare in the real world, constrained by money and the practical needs of millions of people. Can Miami truly research, plan, design, and engineer its way through extreme heat, rising seas, and more devastating disasters? The results of Miami’s experiments in adapting to climate change are critical for the rest of the country. More than 40 percent of the US population lives in a coastal county, and that number is growing. Nearly half of the country’s economic output is in sight of the shore, and without any interventions, the rising seas will displace millions of people. “The risks have been there, and with climate change, they’re going to intensify,” said James Murley, the chief resilience officer for Miami-Dade County. “That’s the same for any major urban area in the world.”The extraordinary challenges of building in Miami, explainedThe sand and the sea are powerful draws, but simply being next to the ocean introduces challenging conditions for buildings. Left unshielded or unmonitored, even massive structures can succumb to the elements. In 2021, the Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside, north of Miami Beach, partially collapsed, killing 98 people. The National Institute of Standards and Technology is still conducting its investigation, which it expects to complete in spring 2024. However, the condominium complex previously reported structural damage to its concrete due to water leaks from its pool. Inspectors also found rebar corrosion due to relentless exposure to the salty coastal air and saltwater rising from the ground. Umair Irfan/Vox Investigators are still trying to figure out why the Champlain Towers South condominium partially collapsed in 2021, but early signs point to saltwater corrosion in its concrete. On top of this, the global climate is changing, and Florida is warming especially fast. The state’s average temperature rose more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit in the past decade, according to David Zierden, Florida’s state climatologist and a researcher at the Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies at Florida State University.That has several major consequences for the Miami metropolitan area. Miami proper is home to 440,000 people. Miami-Dade County, which encompasses 34 cities including Coral Gables, Miami Beach, Doral, and Surfside, has more than 2.6 million residents. The metro region — spanning Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach — includes more than 6 million residents.Higher average temperatures mean more frequent and greater extreme heat events. Coupled with Miami’s legendary humidity, heat waves are already a potent health threat. By the middle of this century, Miami-Dade is poised to experience 134 days a year with a heat index above 100 degrees F, more than triple the rate between 1971 and 2000. Like many parts of the world, Miami just experienced its hottest July on record. Ocean temperatures are rising too, at the surface and below. The waters around Florida this year reached the highest temperatures measured in more than a century, leading to coral bleaching and threatening other marine life. Hot water is also fuel for hurricanes. Patches of hot sea surface waters can cause these storms to rapidly intensify, a phenomenon that emerged in Hurricane Idalia as it made landfall in Florida’s Big Bend region in August. More recently, Hurricane Lee underwent one of the fastest rapid intensifications on record as it churned in the hottest Atlantic Ocean waters ever measured for the time of year. Another climate change effect is that as air warms up, it can hold onto more moisture. That means when rainstorms occur, they dump a lot more water. An April rainstorm dumped a record-breaking 88 billion gallons of water on Fort Lauderdale, one-third of the city’s typical annual rainfall, leading to upward of 4 feet of flooding. Joe Raedle/Getty Images A tropical storm in June 2022 dropped 10 inches of rain on Miami, leading to extensive flooding. Rising temperatures also raise sea levels as ice caps melt and the water in the ocean expands. That means more flooding during king tides, abnormal but predictable high tides that occur in the region between September and November. King tides cause flooding, even when it’s bright and sunny out. They’re projected to occur more frequently, last longer, and reach further inland. Higher sea levels also lead to more saltwater intrusion as salty ocean water enters fresh water supplies. This dynamic has accelerated as cities overdraw on groundwater. Rising sea levels also amplify storm surges, which are often the deadliest aspect of hurricanes. They occur when storms push seawater ashore, often worsened by torrential rainfall. Together, this adds up to one of the most difficult environments in the world to build in, and the challenge is growing. How Southeast Florida is trying to build, adapt, and thrive under climate changeAt the same time, Miami residents have a lot of reasons to hold their ground. The region is a popular vacation spot, but it’s also an alluring place to live for students, families, and retirees. Umair Irfan/Vox The Miami region saw more than 26 million visitors in 2022. Some of the most valuable real estate is taking root in some of the most vulnerable areas. Last year, developers broke ground on the Waldorf Astoria tower in the Brickell business district, just a couple blocks from a flood zone off Biscayne Bay. The 100-story, 1,049-foot tower of skewed stacked cubes will be the tallest building in Florida when it’s completed in 2027.“In what world does this make sense? Well, in a world where developers, profit, and business motivations are primary,” said Melissa Finucane, vice president of science and innovation at the Union of Concerned Scientists, who studies decision-making around environmental risks. PMG, the developer behind the Waldorf Astoria, says it’s bringing a suite of new technologies to endure Miami’s looming dangers, assuaging the worries of wealthy buyers. A two-bedroom condominium at the Waldorf Astoria starts at $2.8 million. More than 80 percent of the units have already been sold. Despite its innovations, the building exemplifies defiance in the face of increasing risk. PMG declined to comment for this story. Melody Timothee for Vox The construction site of the Waldorf Astoria tower in the Brickell business district of Miami. Miami leaders are also branding the city as a tech hub with aspirations to become a financial capital, pitching low business taxes, no state income tax, and lower levels of regulations than other metro regions. Those low taxes mean the local governments have to fund their operations with property taxes and taxes on tourists, creating an incentive for more development in popular coastal regions. The Miami metro region has a GDP topping $340 billion and rising. Its airports are gateways to the Caribbean and Latin America, and its ports are vital hubs for cargo and cruise ships.All this development coupled with climate risks has forced Miami’s built environment to evolve. Architect Reinaldo Borges has a portfolio of buildings all over Florida, but Brickell — Miami’s steel-and-glass business district where the towering Waldorf Astoria is taking root — is his home turf. His firm designed the Infinity condominium tower, the 1060 Brickell Avenue condos, and the Megacenter storage and office complex in the neighborhood. Umair Irfan/Vox Architect Reinaldo Borges describes the climate-resilient design features of the skyscrapers in Miami’s Brickell business district. From the lobby of the Four Seasons, Borges noted that while the skyline may be the most visible feature of the neighborhood, Miami’s unique and subtle, climate-conscious design language is expressed at ground level. Once you notice its expressions, you’ll see them everywhere: Many skyscrapers in the Brickell neighborhood have lobbies 8, 10, or 12 feet above the sidewalk. In other areas with older buildings, however, the entrances are below street level as sidewalks and roadways were rebuilt to higher elevations over the years. It’s rare that you would enter a building without climbing stairs or a ramp. Instead of glass storefronts at the sidewalk, buildings have vents for elevator shafts, HVAC systems, or entrances to parking garages. These are adaptations in response to a looming threat. More than half of Miami-Dade County is 6 feet or less above sea level. “Brickell here is about 8 feet above sea level,” Borges said. “Walk towards the bay, and you’ll see that it’s downhill and it goes to 3 feet.” The neighborhood has flooded before, even when there wasn’t a hurricane blowing water inland. But when Hurricane Irma struck in 2017, it turned Brickell’s streets into rushing rivers. Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images Hurricane Irma in 2017 flooded streets throughout the Brickell neighborhood in Miami. So, architects have designed the offices and condos here to accommodate high water. They’ve installed laminated glass to withstand hurricane winds and gates to keep the storm surge off driveways. But as average temperatures rise, the water levels will climb. Even if the lobbies stay dry, the ground and basement level support structures will be inundated, possibly rendering elevators, air conditioners, parking garages, and backup power systems useless. The glass may not shatter, but the lights may not stay on. “Just because you elevate the main level of a tower like this doesn’t mean that you’re solving all the problems and all the challenges of now and 100 years into the future,” Borges said. How does an architect actually design a skyscraper in Miami, and how does a construction crew build it? To build up, they must first dig down. That’s where the problems begin. The region has little bedrock suitable for heavy construction and a high water table, the height of the boundary where underground soil and rock are saturated with water. Dig a hole, and water will quickly seep in, if it doesn’t fill in from above first. Rather than building on concrete basement slabs or rafts, high-rise buildings in Miami are often built on piles — long vertical columns driven or screwed deep into the ground — or a combination of slabs and piles. Many buildings also use a technique called deep soil mixing, where construction crews blend cement directly into the surrounding soil, creating an impermeable “bathtub” around the substructure. “Those foundation systems have a great track record,” said Thomas Leslie, a professor of architecture at the University of Illinois who studies skyscrapers. “They’re not cheap, but they work.”At ground level, the structure must shield its metal from saltwater corrosion. As rooflines rise, architects have to start to account for the wind. There are the ordinary prevailing winds that can rock a building back and forth, as well as the 200-mph gusts during hurricanes that can blow windows right out of their fixtures. Skyscrapers have to be designed to shed wind and the glass needs to be laminated so it protects the building envelope even if it shatters. The goal is to create a “wind load path” that moves the pressure from the roof to the ground. Umair Irfan/Vox Miami’s skyscrapers have to withstand hurricane-force winds and sometimes more than a dozen feet of storm surge. Umair Irfan/Vox High rises in Brickell, Miami, seen from the ground on a cloudy day. Resilience against extreme weather has now become a selling point. The rising Waldorf Astoria tower boasts it will have Miami’s first tuned mass damper, a massive internal structure that functions like a pendulum to counteract Category 5 hurricane winds. But even with all the investment in design, simulation, and building codes, things can still go wrong. The 645-foot Millennium Tower in San Francisco, inaugurated in 2009, is currently leaning 29 inches toward its northwest corner as the piles beneath it began to sink unevenly in the soft soil. Residents of New York City’s 432 Park Avenue condominiums — the third tallest residential building in the world at 1,396 feet — complained that high winds caused loud creaking and groaning, and at times forced elevators to shut down. With all the wind and water in Miami, the stakes are even higher. Yet the bigger design challenge for Miami may be its smaller buildings, the far more common mid- and low-rise structures. Expensive new skyscrapers can be built like fortresses with modern materials to new resilience standards, but “when it comes to older homes, it’s not so simple,” said Ioannis Zisis, an associate professor at FIU who studies how wind affects structures. The aging, smaller, and cheaper buildings that house most people are far more vulnerable, especially if they were built before Hurricane Andrew. Kobi Karp, an architect who designed the current tallest building in Miami, the 828-foot Panorama Tower, said that bringing older buildings up to date can be a delicate process. Buildings in Miami-Dade have to go through a recertification inspection process when they turn 25, 30, or 40 years old — depending on where and when they were built — and every 10 years thereafter. You can’t undo many past design decisions, and in many cases, you have to uphold them. The optimal strategy for older buildings is not necessarily to demolish and rebuild, but to recycle and retrofit, according to Karp. That positions the structure to better cope with the changing needs of its users, as well as the increasing pressures of the climate. “I try to be careful about saying ‘future-proof’ and ‘hurricane-proof,’ because nothing is 100 percent,” Karp said. “Yet, what we have here is a great opportunity to recycle.”From his office in the Wynwood district, Karp explained his work renovating the Surf Club in Surfside (a few blocks north of the collapsed Champlain Tower). The complex, completed in 1930, hosts a Four Seasons hotel, restaurant, spa, and residences. Karp had to preserve the historic structure and bring it up to code, which meant developing a new substructure to channel water away and using new materials to withstand hurricanes. In the process, the building was reimagined from a gated, private space to a historic building open to the public. “Before, it was an exclusionary private club,” Karp said. “We added a hotel function, which not only allowed us to be more financially efficient, but also it became more coherent to the community.” Umair Irfan/Vox The Surf Club in Surfside, Florida, was redesigned to become a more public space and to withstand hurricanes. Umair Irfan/Vox Architect Kobi Karp points out the design features of the renovated Surf Club. As the needs of Miami residents evolve and the picture of the future under climate change grows sharper, architects, engineers, and city planners will have to regroup to anticipate what lies ahead and raise the bar for adaptation. That often proves to be as difficult as withstanding hurricane-force winds or a dozen feet of storm surge. “We are reactive. Our culture, our communities are reactive. The planning is very poor,” Borges said. “And so the proactive planning for these things, I have found it to be very inefficient, and very inadequate.”Navigating climate change in Miami won’t be easy, or cheapThe most well-designed house or office tower doesn’t amount to much if the streets are flooded, electricity is cut off, or drinking water is contaminated. Miami is the only major metro area in the US that uses large numbers of septic tanks, which serve more than 100,000 homes and businesses. When the county floods, sewage reaches the surface, killing wildlife and sickening residents. Miami is also running out of places to store its waste, and a fire earlier this year shut down its main trash incinerator.Miami-Dade has already spent more than $1 billion on water and sewage systems under Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, who took office in 2020. According to one proposal, cleaning up septic tanks would cost $4 billion. The City of Miami’s stormwater master plan — comprising pumps, sea walls, pipes, and injection wells — is projected to cost $3.8 billion over the next four decades. The city also issued a $400 million bond to fund resilience projects, but has yet to fully allocate the money. “Even when we have the funds available, we don’t have the staff to deploy that capital,” said Aaron DeMayo, an architectural designer and urban planner in Miami. Umair Irfan/Vox The Five Park condominium tower in Miami Beach will be 518 feet tall when completed. Massive city-wide engineering efforts do have precedent. Faced with relentless mud and a cholera outbreak in the 19th century, Chicago began to lift its buildings up. Over 20 years, using screw jacks, Chicagoans raised buildings from 4 to 14 feet to make room for sewers beneath. The city also reversed the flow of the Chicago River to keep pollution out of Lake Michigan, its main source of drinking water. Lake Michigan, however, isn’t rising or reaching hot-tub temperatures like the Atlantic Ocean, so Miami is still in uncharted waters when it comes to the pace and the scale of the shifts it must endure. DeMayo published his own proposal to build a region-wide network of levees, locks, green spaces, and barriers, effectively gating Biscayne Bay between Miami and Miami Beach to protect their respective shorelines from tides and storm surges. And while many local officials, engineers, and architects think Miami can withstand the perils of a changing climate, a growing number of insurers think it can’t. This year, NOAA has tabulated five weather disasters that hit Florida and caused billion-dollar damages across states in the region. Early damage estimates for Hurricane Idalia are already in the tens of billions. It’s proven too much to bear for insurance companies like Farmers, which pulled up stakes in Florida earlier this summer, citing growing disaster risks across the state. Others like AAA have decided not to renew some insurance policies. Another part of Miami’s challenge is political. Though neither of the two Floridians running for president say they believe that humans cause climate change, local officials are taking these problems seriously. Miami-Dade is part of the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, working with three other counties to collaborate on overcoming the problems stemming from climate change and to chalk out the future. In 2021, Miami-Dade County named Jane Gilbert to be its chief heat officer, the first such position in the US. But the pitch of limited government regulations runs counter to the need for strict building code enforcement. “This makes a huge difference in whether a building can withstand an intense hurricane or avoid flood damage,” said Eddie Seymour, a principal at Flux Architects in Miami. “Codes on the west coast of Florida are less stringent and it showed during Hurricane Ian last year.” That’s part of why Ian was the deadliest hurricane to make landfall in the mainland US since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Miami is also facing many of the same challenges of other metropolises: a shortage of affordable housing, outdated infrastructure, inadequate public transportation, inflation, and a slower than expected return to offices following the Covid-19 pandemic. These forces could reshape the makeup of the region before the rising waters will. Umair Irfan/Vox Miami’s shoreline is a powerful draw to the city and a major threat. Climate resilience efforts also need to extend beyond luxury shoreline properties to low- and mid-income areas, but adaptation expenses in the public and private sector are often passed down to residents, contributing to rising housing prices. That threatens to widen Miami’s rampant wealth inequalities, or create a situation where the people with the least means end up living in the most vulnerable neighborhoods. All this adaptation effort is for naught if the world doesn’t address the core of the problem, humanity’s biggest uncontrolled experiment: rising greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels that are heating up the planet. So from Miami’s grand climate change resilience experiment, one result is already clear: “There’s no one big fix,” said Murley, the Miami-Dade’s resilience officer. “You have to have a demonstrated commitment across everything that you do.” It’s a lesson every city by the sea would do well to heed as they all become laboratories for learning to survive a world unlike anything they’ve experienced before.

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