I had a good Fourth of July yesterday. I went to watch the fireworks here in town with Alejandra, Jess, Ermete, and a few friends from Gaia House. I always enjoy the fireworks, but somehow having friends and family with you turns it into more of an experience.
Alejandra was mostly just quiet during the show, which is funny because she’s usually such a talker. She gets that way sometimes when we’re out at a show, whether it’s a movie, music, a play, whatever. She loses herself in it. She gets this look of awe in her eyes and just looks and listens and experiences it all. Ermete, on the other hand, is a science nerd. He was talking about how fireworks used to be more toxic and produce more smoke until the regulations made them greener. That got Jess started talking about how it was still so wasteful when we haven’t even stopped CO2 emissions from power plants and vehicles yet. But then she admitted that it was beautiful and started making all types of jokes about random things from TV and movies. She insisted that it was the end of the world and the fireworks were part of some type of real battle. But we couldn’t decide if it was a zombie apocalypse, or a climate apocalypse, or maybe an alien invasion that we were fighting off with colorful smiley face explosions.
Sometimes it’s good to talk about normal things like that for a while. But I really should get back to the latest news from Miami.
When I woke up this morning, I was just hoping to have a nice, calm, quiet day to recover from staying up late having a few drinks with new friends. But then I turn on my phone and the first thing I see is a headline about the insurance companies.
For the past few weeks, everyone has been holding their breaths as the property and casualty insurance companies assess the damages in Florida. It’s been almost a month since Hurricane Florence made landfall, so in theory, they should have said and done much more by now. But so far they’ve done almost nothing. So rumors have been spreading that there were all sorts of threats and arguments going on behind closed doors between the insurance companies, the reinsurers, the state and federal agencies, and the big property owners. We may never know all the details, but we do know the outcome.
Nobody is going to pay for the damages from Hurricane Florence.
Of course, it’s all going to be fought out in the courts. The property owners will sue the private and public insurers for not paying. The insurers will sue various governments and possibly corporations for not doing enough to prepare for climate change. The government may put the companies into receivership, liquidate their assets, who knows what else. Meanwhile, all of the TV and internet pundits are doing their best to explain the complexities of insurance regulations and agencies.
Some people in the insurance industry have made public statements explaining the situation in simpler terms. The simple version is that regardless of who wins what court cases, there’s no way anybody is going to get insurance money unless there’s a major government bailout of the entire industry, something like the bank bailout of 2008. But this would cost more money than that, and the state and federal governments are way more broke now than they were in 2008, so it’s not likely to happen.
What does this mean for Miami? Mostly bad, bad news.
Over the past couple of decades, Miami has already seen some people and businesses leave because of the cost of insurance. You basically have a choice between very expensive private insurance or cheaper public insurance that doesn’t have enough money to pay your claims unless it gets a public bailout. So people in coastal areas throughout Florida and up the whole East Coast have been either leaving or struggling under the weight of heavy insurance premiums and rebuilding costs.
Thing have gradually been getting worse. Everyone outside of the Tea Party knows that it’s because of global warming. But this is the straw that broke the camel’s back. Hurricane Florence has left large parts of the city more or less uninhabitable. Even the places that didn’t really get damaged in the storm need renovations so that they can get updated water and power systems as well as first floor designs that can take on water without being damaged.
That takes money. And without any help from the insurance companies or the government, even some of the most elite properties in Miami don’t have enough money lying around to do such major repairs and renovations. The ones that do are smart enough to know that it may not be worth it. Will they ever turn a profit again if they have a five star hotel but the city has become a ghost town?
Some people are saying it’s not as bad as it seems. Every crisis is an opportunity. Maybe something good will come of the fact that property values in Miami are dropping to the lowest levels since the city was founded.
But it doesn’t feel that way. It feels like just when Miamians are starting to pull together and rebuild the city, all the politicians and corporations have let us down. With just a little help, we could have such a great recovery. There are all of these great plans developing for how to rise to the challenge and adapt to the situation. But corporations and governments alike have decided it’s not worth the risk or the trouble. They just want to let Miami be overrun with toxic floodwaters and decaying buildings and rampant crime and out-of-state mercenaries whose idea of law and order is to rob and terrorize the people they’re supposed to protect.
Before all this happened, I never really knew how much Miami meant to me. It was just the place I lived, you know? But now more than ever, I know that I have to go back there and do something about this. I’m not a political person, but to me, this isn’t political. This is helping the city I grew up in, the place I call home, recover from a disaster.
I have a few ideas. Other people do too. It’s going to take some time and some organizing, but we can do it. If the insurance companies all go bankrupt, and the government won’t help, then we’ll do it our own way. This is bad news, but we’ll make the most of it. We’ll make Miami livable for everyone who stayed there and everyone who makes it back there in the next few months. I’m sure of it.