Climate change could have played role in Florida collapse: Jennifer Granholm

Champlain Towers South collapse seen from the ocean.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm suggested that climate change could have played a role in the deadly collapse of a Florida condo tower — and was ripped by experts and online critics alike for the “ghoulish” opinion.

During an interview Tuesday on CNN, Granholm was asked whether climate change may have contributed to the partial collapse of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, where 149 people remain missing after 12 deaths have been confirmed, Fox News reported.

“Obviously, we don’t know fully, but we do know that the seas are rising. We know that we’re losing inches and inches of beaches, not just in Florida but all around,” Granholm said.

“Michigan, where I’m from, we’ve seen the loss of beaches because the waters are rising, so this is a phenomenon that will continue,” she added.

The secretary used the tragedy to push for President Biden’s infrastructure package.

“Obviously, we don’t know fully, but we do know that the seas are rising,” Secretary Jennifer Granholm pointed out.
AFP via Getty Images

“We’ll have to wait to see what the analysis is for this building, but the issue about resiliency and making sure we adapt to this changing climate, that’s going to mean levees need to be built, sea walls need to be built, infrastructure needs to be built,” Granholm said.

“There’s so much investment that we need to do protect ourselves from climate change but also to address it and mitigate it,” she continued. “Hopefully these infrastructure bills, when taken together, will make a huge step and allow America to lead again.”

The sea level has risen some 8 inches around the world since 1900 – and especially during the 40 years since the Surfside tower was built, Zhong-Ren Peng, director of iAdapt — the International Center for Adaptation Planning and Design at the University of Florida — wrote in a piece for USA Today.

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By 2100, the sea level along Florida’s southeastern coast will rise between 2.6 and 6.8 feet, Peng wrote, citing the state’s projections.

But a professor who researches the beaches in South Florida said it is unlikely climate change alone was behind the collapse.

Stephen Leatherman, a Florida International University professor, said there’s no evidence yet the phenomenon played a role in the collapse.

Balconies of Champlain Towers South.
Florida International University professor Stephen Leatherman suggested a lack of structural reinforcement played more of a role in the collapse than climate change.

“I doubt that that was an issue here,” he told Agence France-Presse during an interview in his Miami home.

Rather, a lack of reinforcement in the doomed structure’s construction, or perhaps water damage that eventually compromised its foundations, are more likely culprits, Leatherman told the news outlet.

“Big thing they worry about here are hurricanes, beach erosion, flooding, all those issues. But the collapse of a building is new. We haven’t ever seen this before, particularly a high-rise building,” he said.

Cracking and spalling at parking garage columns during a 2018 inspection survey.
A 2018 inspection survey reported cracking and spalling on parking garage columns.

Leatherman also questioned whether contractors installed enough rebar to support the concrete tower, and also the quality of the sand needed to make the concrete.

A 2018 engineer’s report found “major structural damage” in the complex, extending to the concrete slab under the pool deck and the concrete beams and columns in the underground garage.

Meanwhile, Granholm’s comments elicited rebuke in social media.

“There’s nothing that can’t be blamed on climate change,” National Review editor Rich Lowry said in a tweet.

“Absolutely ghoulish,” wrote @bonchieredstate.

“Yes, a global climate phenomenon affected a single swimming pool and parking garage but didn’t affect neighboring structures,” added national security professional Alex Plitsas.

Champlain Towers South collapse damage.
149 people remain missing after 12 deaths have been confirmed in the condo building collapse.

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