Surfsie Building Collapse

Did Climate Change Play a Role in the Miami Condo Collapse?

Could the impacts of global warming have had anything to do with the Miami condo collapse?

Global warming is having a negative impact on older buildings around the country. Experts say they were never built for the climate they now find themselves in.  Architects and engineers design buildings and other structures, like bridges, to operate within the parameters of the local climate. They’re built using materials and following design standards that can withstand the range of temperatures, rainfall, snow, and wind that are expected, plus any geological issues such as earthquakes, subsidence, and groundwater levels. However, for buildings that were built decades ago, like the one that collapsed in Miami, the climate they were built to withstand has changed.

In many places, buildings are being forced to exist at the outer ranges of their temperature on a regular basis, rather than once in a while as they were designed to tolerate. To some extent, these impacts will be localized and containable, with fairly simple remedies. For example, overheating can be reduced by shading windows with awnings or blinds, good insulation, and ample ventilation. Perhaps more worrying are the insidious effects of climate change which gradually undermine the core functions of a building in less obvious ways – and may have contributed to the Miami condo collapse.

Buildings in coastal areas are especially susceptible as the chloride in saltwater accelerates rusting. Rising sea levels will raise the water table and make it saltier, affecting building foundations, while salt spray will spread further on stronger winds. This all creates a condition that the experts refer to as a kind of “concrete cancer.”

The recent tragic collapse of the Miami condo building may be an early warning of this process gaining speed. While the exact cause of the collapse is still being investigated, some are suggesting it could be linked to climate change.

Whether or not the link to climate change proves to be true, it is nevertheless a wake-up call to the fragility of our buildings. It should also be seen as a clear demonstration of a critical point: wealth does not protect against the effects of climate change. Rich nations have the financial clout to adapt more rapidly and mitigate these impacts, but they can’t stop them at the border. Climate change is indiscriminate. Buildings are vulnerable to these impacts no matter where in the world they are, and if anything, the modern buildings of developed countries have more things in them that can go wrong than simpler traditional structures.

The sooner we begin retrofitting existing buildings and constructing new ones that can withstand climate change, the better.

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