When Profit Became Irrelevant

One day not too many years ago, 2014 in fact, Eliseo Toussaint walked out of his Miami Beach laundromat and stepped into ankle deep seawater. For him, that was the first sign it was for real. Cars found themselves plowing through saltwater two feet deep. It was only a couple of years later that the first of the beachfront hotels, already abandoned and surrounded by water because not enough of the annually needed sand could be trucked in, sagged, then fell face first into the ocean.

Isaac Cordal

Politicians Discussing Global Warming
a sculpture by Isaac Cordal, Berlin

One by one, the towns and cities of Florida closed up shop and headed for higher ground during low tides, leaving a strange sort of Venice behind, water covering every street, and almost nobody there. Some lived on second stories of abandoned buildings and got around by boat, but there were no lights, and soon there was no petrol.

Of course, Florida wasn’t the only place. In fact, large chunks of seaside real estate everywhere were submerged, some only a few years after the rich rebuilt their multi-million-dollar houses on low beachfront after the last hurricane. Every state with a seashore lost land, and every low-lying seashore city and town went under and was no more. Tens of millions of people packed up and left to look for a new life on higher ground.

Beachfront hotels
fell face first into the surf.
Florida closed up shop and
headed for higher ground.

It wasn’t easy, because large swaths of the country baked in the new heat and some places became simply uninhabitable. The record heat waves in Oklahoma and Texas that began during the summers of 2011-2013 became the norm. Weeks when the temperature never dropped below 100 degrees expanded to months. Food shortages became normal. There was really no place anyone could migrate to, and the poor began squatting on marginal land the way they’ve always done in big cities around the world. Local police tried to shoo them away, but, like flocks of starlings, they soon came back. They had no place else to go.

California’s two-century history of unusually wet climate reverted to the arid norm of previous centuries. Satellite photos began showing very little snow cover in the Sierra Nevada Mountains after 2010, and then there was almost none. The snowmelt that had irrigated the Central Valley, where half the nation’s food was grown, was gone, and with it, many jobs and many residents. Los Angeles was on permanent severe water restriction.

Temperatures stayed above 100 for months.

Scientists became alarmed at the rate of melt of the ice plug of the biggest Antarctic glacier. It was still holding, but barely, and might suddenly break off into the ocean, and the entire glacier could come roaring down into the ocean. Within days, worldwide sea level would suddenly increase by more than ten feet. There were only slightly less worrying signs in Greenland, where a river of ice-melt had been lubricating the bottom of the ice cap and slowly eroding it for decades. A loss of all Greenland ice was not expected, which was good, because that would deepen the ocean by hundreds of feet. But movement was detected in parts of it, and that was worrying indeed.

The Republican Party issued a white paper that declared that this warming and sea level rise was not caused by human activity, but was rather only a natural short-term phenomenon, a temporary aberration that would revert to normal within two years. The House voted for the 103rd time to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and approved the Modern Coal Utilization Act with no debate.

When the seaside mansions of the very rich went under the waves they began to understand. Their private jet was meaningless, as were their many homes worldwide. When hundreds of the newly poor stretched their blue tarps just outside the wall, it became clearer that no one was immune. When food became hard to buy, even when an armed guard accompanied the cook, profit lost all meaning, and it no longer mattered how investments performed.

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