The City of South Miami Wants to Split Florida in Two

Climate-change fears don't always lead to calls for centralization.


But I repeat myself.

The City of South Miami wants to secede from Florida. No, not by itself: In a resolution passed earlier this month, the mayor and city commission proposed that 24 counties leave the state together, setting up a new state that they'd call South Florida and forcing the rest of us to confront the thought of a world with two Floridas in it.

Like many of the country's secessionist movements, which pop up periodically in regions ranging from eastern Washington to western Maryland and from northern California to New York City, the Miami revolt reflects a cultural divide. North Florida is more southern than South Florida—yes, I know how weird that sentence sounds—and that sometimes manifests itself in ways more consequential than whether there are any good Cuban restaurants in town. Right now, the resolution complains, "in order to address the concerns of South Florida, it is necessary to travel to Tallahassee in North Florida. Often South Florida issues do not receive the support of Tallahassee. This is despite the fact that South Florida generates more than 69% of the state's revenue and contains 67% of the state's population." Similar sentiments inspired a pair of split-the-state resolutions a few years ago in the towns of North Lauderdale and Margate.

But there's another factor this time: fear of climate change. The built-up coastal communities on the southern tip of the state are worried about rising sea levels, and they don't think they're getting the support they need from the legislature. Here's a section from the South Miami resolution:

Whereas, climate change is a scientific reality resulting in global warming and rising sea level; and

Whereas, it is estimated that there will be a 3 to 6 foot sea level rise by the end of this century. In addition, South Florida has very porous rock and, as the level of the sea rises, the pressure will cause water to rise up through the ground and flood the inland areas; and

Whereas, South Florida's situation is very precarious and in need of immediate attention. Many of the issues facing South Florida are not political, but are now significant safety issues…

We're used to hearing global warming invoked to justify centralization, not decentralization. Occasionally someone like Elinor Ostrom will break with that consensus, but that's rare. The general assumption is that the way to deal with climate change is to try to prevent it at the source, and that the way to prevent it is to create a globally binding agreement. World leaders haven't had much luck with that plan so far, and I doubt that's going to change anytime soon.

And so we're hearing more about adaptation as well as prevention. But adaptation is a decentralized process, not a centralized one, with adjustments made by ports, private companies, city and county governments, and other entities directly affected by changing conditions. That doesn't mean the feds are left out—they're getting hit up for subsidies and other sorts of help—but the decisions are being made at relatively local levels, and not always in the public sector. Those decisions don't always even require people to agree about what causes warming or whether it's happening at all. When my wife covers the effects of rising sea levels on the Eastern Shore or the islands of the Chesapeake Bay, the locals will often tell her they think the streets are being flooded because of erosion or poor drainage rather than climate change. But that doesn't mean they don't want to do anything about it.

This is the other side of climate politics: a messy and largely local trial-and-error process being carried out far from the international summits that seize the headlines. That, plus the occasional flare-up into something strange, like a secessionist movement in the Miami suburbs. Save your Spanish doubloons, boys, South Florida will rise again!