Climate change talks spark hope for South Florida

Claire Woodfin/Contributing Writer


Visions of sea water bubbling up through the limestone bedrock and Miami Beach sitting eerily underwater have, thus far, characterized the atmosphere around climate change and sea level rise in South Florida. However, talks between local elected officials, held at FIU on the morning of Monday, May 23, ignited optimism.

The discussion was held in the Graham Center ballrooms, sponsored by several non-profit organizations, and featured U.S. Congressman Carlos Curbelo, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Miami-Dade County Commissioner Rebeca Sosa as panelists.

The panelists described how Miami-Dade County is being hailed a leader in sea-level rise solutions. The county is the first in the United States to have a “resiliency officer”, who is responsible for analyzing construction and investment in Miami-Dade. The officer is also responsible for sustainability efforts in the county as the effects of sea-level rise manifest themselves.

The Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, a local political collaboration around the issue, is also “…cited outside of Florida as a regional model for the rest of [the] country,” said Julio Fuentes, the president and CEO of the Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, who initiated the talks.

Bipartisanship was an especially significant thread of the discussion. According to Congressman Curbelo, much attention is devoted to ensuring that the congressional caucus on climate change is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. “Ted Deutch and I figured out that as long as this is a partisan or ideological issue in the United States Congress, we’re going to make very little progress,” said Curbelo.

FIU medical student David Mendoza said it was reassuring to hear this. “Carlos Curbelo is a Republican and I thought that [it] was taboo for him to acknowledge climate change…I’m happily surprised that the people on the right side of the aisle are taking the steps.”

According to FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg, who spoke briefly at the talks, FIU and its Sea Level Solutions Center will play a key, unique role in the development of solutions. “The life of the mind has to translate into doable deeds [and] action into improvements for our community,” said Rosenberg. He also mentioned the interest of the South Floridian business community to get involved.

Gimenez briefly talked about this “new economy” while there was a verbal consensus between the officials of the huge price tag associated with these solutions. There was also talk of the immense economic opportunity and technological innovation that the challenge would bring.

Dr. Stephen Leatherman, professor in the department of Earth and Environment, raised the concern of the development on Miami Beach. “Coastal construction continues unabated and, in fact, seems to be accelerating,” said Dr. Leatherman in an email to Student Media. Sosa, too, cited overdevelopment as a significant problem in coming up with solutions.

Mendoza and, first-year FIU information technology student, Shaithya Shaji have already embraced optimism toward climate change. Mendoza stated that he would “endure” the effects of sea-level rise, and Shaji expressed her view on how important awareness of the issue is.
The local government is adamant about getting to the root of the problem, by directly tackling climate change. On August 30, the public will have the chance to vote for lower taxes for businesses that opt to change to solar energy. In addition, the county will switch to clean public transportation in the near future.

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