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Climate Change and the Threat to Miami: Panel Conversation at ComNet17

ComNet17 Keynote

In this panel discussion, moderated by the President and CEO of The Miami Foundation, Javier Alberto Soto, hear from South Florida municipal officers, local Miami foundations, and national foundations on how they’re focused on the environment and on solutions-based campaigns, and the role of communications in climate change.

Panelists:

  • Javier Alberto Soto, President and CEO, The Miami Foundation
  • Mayor Phillip Levine, Mayor, City of Miami Beach
  • Jane Gilbert, Chief Resilience Officer, City of Miami
  • Chad Nelsen, CEO, Surfrider Foundation
  • Matthew Beatty, Director of Communications, The Miami Foundation

Below, watch the video, listen to the podcast, or read the transcript.

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Transcript

A lightly edited transcript of this session follows.

Sean Gibbons

It is my great honor and pleasure to invite the folks up onto the stage. Today we have Javier Alberto Soto, who is the CEO of the Miami Foundation. They have been doing tremendous work to help with recovery and relief in the wake of Irma and they do wonderful work in this community every single day. I know I asked you all, maybe wranged you all, to give a little yesterday. How many have had a chance to do that? I’m taking names. Good, thank you very, very much, super kind of you. For those who haven’t please do.

To his immediate left will be Mayor Philip Levine. Be really nice to him, he’s about to not get much sleep. His wife is incredibly pregnant and they have their first child due Tuesday, unless it happens earlier. And then right after this, I’m pointing at empty chairs, you guys want to come up? Maybe that’s the way to do this. It’s a handsome, handsome, and healthy and good-looking group of people. I sound like Donald Trump, oh my god.

This is Mayor Levine.

This is Javier. Jane Gilbert, who has the coolest job in America and you’re going to be find out why in a quick minute. She is the Chief Resilience Officer for the City of Miami. So it’s not like she hasn’t been busy, so we are incredibly grateful. I have a feeling she has an 18 hour day ahead of her after this.

Chad Nelsen, my dear friend and one of my heroes. He is the CEO of Surfrider. And then Matthew Beatty, who has been, for those of you who are not aware, one of the, I wouldn’t say unsung because you’ve been incredible here this conference and I’m about to sing about it. This guy evacuated just a couple of weeks ago and the entire time he was doing so, he was in touch with me helping to put together the big party we had the other night. And a number of the other events that you’ve been enjoying including this. So a big round of applause for Matthew in particular. And for all of these good folks who are going to share a little bit about the reality that is facing Miami today.

Climate is such a conceptual thing for many places in this country. We hear about it but we don’t necessarily understand it. These folks understand it and for them it’s not a political issue, it’s just the world that we live I, or they live in, at this very moment and they’re going to talk about it right now. I’ll get off the stage.

Javier Soto

Thank you very much and thank you all for being here, it’s a little early for Miami Beach, but thank you all for joining us. We do want to talk about climate change and sea level rise and what Sean just said is something that we talk about quite a bit down here. This is not a political issue down here. This is also not an existential, 50 years from now, what’s going to happen kind of issue, this is a here and now issue.and you’re going to talk to folks who are on the front lines of this issue here in our community and throughout America and in many ways sort of setting models for how you adapt to these change conditions on a national and a global scale.

So climate change is sometimes tough to get peoples attention on because it’s a slow process, but then something like Hurricane Irma happens and it’s a mad scramble and everyone is glued to the news on it 24/7 and these issues very clearly are linked. And so we’re going to talk a little bit about how an event like Hurricane Irma sorta changes the narrative, changes the dynamic on the issue of climate change and how that helps us to sort of leverage that moment to build long-term resilience. We’re going to talk about what actually happened during Hurricane Irma as well as what we prepared for, so some of the lessons learned, what was expected, and what challenges came up that perhaps were unforeseen. And we’re going to talk about again how an event like this allows us to communicate in a way that galvanizes action around long-term resilience building and long-term adaptation to sea level rise.

And I’d like to start with our Mayor here, who’s been really a leader on a national scale with regards to adaptation solutions for things like sea level rise. But I want to talk today about what happened here three weeks ago. So Hurricane Irma is bearing down on our region. For those of you who are watching, this is closely as we were in Miami. We were in dead center of the cone for a couple of days there right before the event hit and a place like Miami Beach has enormous, enormous things to consider in an even like that. Primarily how to keep their 91,000 residents safe. So I’d like to turn to you, Mayor, just to talk about the pre and then the during of Hurricane Irma, what you expected, what happened and what lessons you’d take away from this event.

Philip Levine

Alright. Thank you and thank you for the opportunity to be here, it’s definitely early in Miami Beach, right?

Jane Gilbert

Yes.

Philip Levine

And I used to always laugh and say when I was building companies and building my businesses in Miami, I’d get up early and go on the road and there was no one else out there and I felt like it was a conspiracy against me. Like it was The Truman Show and I was the only one working. But obviously Irma was a real, it was a major threat and as I say, these types of hurricanes, these types of storms, people used to say, “They’re once in a century storms,” and we go “No it’s not the case, we believe this is the new normal brought about by the changed climate environment that we’re living with today.” In Miami Beach everybody understands flooding, they understand sea level rise and they realize because it affects their daily lives.

When I ran for Mayor, I always say I didn’t get swept into office I kind of got floated into office under a campaign of we are going to raise roads, put in pumps and blah, blah, blah. And we really had no idea what we were going to do, but like we said that there is nothing perfect, but clearly we’re going to make some action and do some things and communications always been the most important part of that. In areas of our city we put a plan together to spend $500 million, we’ve spend $100. Of course the media already says, “They’ve already spent $1 billion,” and we raised roads, put in pumps, raised sea walls, changed building codes, done everything we can to make our city more resilient.

So Hurricane Irma, it’s coming towards our city. Communication is/was the name of the game. We have this massive storm coming. Literally, as you saw, like a bowling ball headed right towards perfect strike, which is South Florida. And we hope for the best, but we expected the worst. And the job as the Mayor, of course, is to communicate as aggressively and as accurately as possible with your constituency. And what I basically, one of the key-words I used, which got cloned and went all over the world, is I said, “This is a nuclear hurricane.” And the next thing you know, that word ‘nuclear hurricane’ was trending all over the world, but our residents understood what I meant when I said nuclear. What I’m saying is it has the potential impact of devastation to our community and loss of lives.

We have a great plan for these types of emergencies. Our plan was in place, our plan was organized, we have a great city staff. Did everything in our power to communicate constantly with the residents and the visitors of Miami Beach. The county has the order to evacuate, they weren’t evacuating. I took it upon myself to say to the community after I saw where this was coming, “It’s time to leave, you need to leave.” And what’s strange about this is almost like it becomes a competition among the governor and myself is who can scare the crap out of everybody more? But I thought my term ‘nuclear hurricane’ kind of just was a knockout punch because it trended all over.

People listened and I said, “You need to leave, there’s no evacuation order, I’m telling you as your Mayor: get out, get out, get out.” Wrote a letter to every single visitor, said, “I’ve never thought I’d say this in a million years, get out of Miami Beach. Don’t come here right now.” And they started to listen, started to listen, everyone started to exodus and before you know it, for the first time ever, Miami Beach was a ghost town. There was no one there. And of course when the storm came in, we kept communicating, how did we communicate? E-blasts, Facebook, literally Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, there was no medium and we utilized all the media possible. Every news channel in the world we were going on and delivering our message. If you didn’t hear the message, literally you must have been in a silo.

“So Hurricane Irma, it’s coming towards our city. Communication is/was the name of the game. We have this massive storm coming. Literally, as you saw, like a bowling ball headed right towards perfect strike, which is South Florida. And we hope for the best, but we expected the worst. And the job as the Mayor, of course, is to communicate as aggressively and as accurately as possible with your constituency.”

So we were able to communicate. When the storm hit, thank God as I said, we didn’t dodge a bullet, we dodged a canon. But there was still significant damage to the city, which came to the next point. I said, “You can’t come back for 24 hours.” And why? Because we did well in the preparation, we weathered the storm well, now we have to make sure we don’t lose life and have people hurt in the recovery effort. Three-part program here. And we said, “You can’t come.” And can you imagine, you’re telling everyone who lives here, “You can’t come back to Miami Beach.” Now, it was like being the doorman rope guy at the best club in the world. Everyone’s texting me, “I hear you, but can I get in, I gotta get in. Can I get in? Can my friend come in? Can my family member come in?” Everybody who’s who in the world wants to come back and you’re like, “No, no, no, no, no. You can’t come back.”

And then finally of course we cleared the roads, we fixed the power lines, we were able to fix the gas leaks and people came back in. We operated on a military basis: prepared, organized, cleaning up these roads as fast as we possibly can. And then we put in curfews. And we communicated the curfews. And I could tell you all my friends kept saying, “Oh yeah, Philip wants a curfew at 8 o’clock, that’s because he’s in bed watching CNN and so he doesn’t care.” Okay? And I said, “No, it’s because of everyone’s safety. We have to continue.” And then little by little, we rolled out a program called The Beach is Back and we started hotels offering $99 and under for people who don’t have power that are residents from Miami Beach.

“And of course when the storm came in, we kept communicating, how did we communicate? E-blasts, Facebook, literally Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, there was no medium and we utilized all the media possible. Every news channel in the world we were going on and delivering our message. If you didn’t hear the message, literally you must have been in a silo.”

So, communication for us was key to maintaining an orderly process and making sure everyone was safe.

Javier Soto

Thank you, Mayor. And there’s no doubt that the communication from the beach was incredibly consistent, incredibly powerful, but that piece about people not being able to get back right away, it was contentious. There was a lot of coverage in the media, a lot of angry people being interviewed on our local news, and frankly, yelling at the Mayor. But the Mayor’s responsibility is to ensure people’s safety and to ensure that those who are involved in recovery efforts such as first responders and utility workmen, etc. are able to do their jobs in a safe manner before the streets are flooded again and it’s no longer a ghost town. So, thank you Mayor.

I’d like to turn now to Jane Gilbert, Chief Resilience Officer for the city of Miami. And Jane, maybe some of the folks here aren’t familiar with what a CRO, or Chief Resilience Officer, is. So I’d like to ask you to start maybe with a little bit of background on what that job entails, and again bringing it back to Hurricane Irma the importance of a function like that in city government, we have a CRO in the beach as well and at the county, in preparing and recovering from events like this.

Jane Gilbert

Sure. So a CRO, Chief Resilience Officer, the position was really created by Rockefeller Foundation through their 100 Resilient Cities Program. And the way they look at resilience is a very broad lens. They look at certainly top shocks that could be impacting a city, could be an earthquake, could be a hurricane, flood, could be an economic collapse or a terrorist attack. So top shocks is how do we not only recovery from those and build in plans ahead to recover, but bounce back strong. You heard the mayor talk about the beach is back and a plan to get businesses right back, that’s a resilience plan, that’s a way to get businesses back engaged right away.

But it’s not only the shocks, it’s the stresses. The ongoing chronic vulnerabilities in a city that weaken the fabric. That also make it, if we get a shock, much more difficult to recover. Our poor and vulnerable populations, our transportation stresses, which we definitely have during Hurricane Irma in our evacuations, and our affordability. We have very significant challenges with our housing affordability here, significant transit challenges and significant equity challenges. Particularly in the city of Miami.

Miami I would say close to 70% of the population is having a hard time making ends meet, which gets to a different kind of challenge when we’re dealing with a Hurricane Irma situation. So we need to make sure that those people not only are aware of what they need to do to prepare in an event, i.e. have their supplies, think about what their evacuation plan is, know who of their loved one neighborhood networks needs help, etc. But some of them don’t really have the capacity to have three days of food ahead of time or if they have to clean out their whole refrigerator, that knocks them out and have to buy again. Or when the grocery stores, which when people depend on food stamps it’s an electronic swipe, and when the grocery stores one, didn’t have much supplies, but then they were only taking cash, people couldn’t buy food.

So we needed to think about provisioning and getting out post Irma right away ice and food and making sure that our most vulnerable, the assisted living facilities, had provisions. That takes pre-planning, that takes knowing who your community partners are and how best to … where our distribution points are. It takes knowing where all those vulnerable people live. And how we get out to them best. So, that takes a lot of pre-planing.

A Chief Resilience Officer is starting to look at people first and what their needs are. And then another way we’re planning for disasters looking at our building and land use codes. How to we strengthen those. The Miami Day County has some of the strongest building codes in the country when it comes to wind and we’ve been working on strengthening our codes around flood risks and recently, and I think that the state’s starting to catch up with us as well on that. But those are some things we can do where and how we build, look at it where and how we build and some of the infrastructure that can help protect. I think one of the beaches greatest asset in this storm was its dunes, frankly. And so that really protected the beach from getting a higher storm surge than it could have had.

We also had some areas that, while they flooded, because the buildings were built higher, they didn’t actually get flooded and it drained very quickly. So we were blessed in that sense. If it had been a larger storm we might not have been so blessed, but that’s where we get to learn from this event and make sure that we strengthen those codes even higher.

Javier Soto

Thank you, Jane. So protecting beaches and oceans is at the core of Surfrider Foundation’s work. Chad Nelsen is here to talk about that work over the past 30 years and I’d also ask you, Chad, to talk about what your message is for coastal communities such as ours in the wake of storms like this whether it’s Hurricane Irma or Super storm Sandy further up north. What should coastal communities be thinking about in doing now to prepare?

Chad Nelsen

Thanks, Javier. So the Surfrider Foundation is a coastal conservation organization and we’ve been addressing issues like sea level rise for decades and although I think climate change has become a topic that’s more accepted, the seas along the United States coast lines have been rising for 100 years. And so we’ve seen incremental challenges that coastal development right up to the shore, erosion events, often not as notable as Irma or Sandy, causing erosion and then armoring of the shore line, putting up sea walls. This is something that’s happening up and down the coast here and everywhere else, which ultimately destroys the beach. Spending enormous sums of money on beach nourishment, which brings the beach back but is an incredibly expensive pursuit that you’re kind of doing perpetually and could incentivize more inappropriate coastal development that’s hazardous.

And so we’ve been toiling away on those issues for decades, here, there, up and down the coast around the country without a lot of fanfare. And then you get a big storm and everybody starts paying attention to these issues and you see those slow motion disasters happening actually sort of in real time. And so it’s an opportunity to really understand the impacts of this coastal erosion that’s happening and if you believe any of the predictions, sea level has risen about eight inches over the last 100 years. It’s going to rise 3-6 feet in the next 100. So the problems we have today are nothing like what we’re going to have in the future. So if we want healthy beaches on our coastlines that drive tourism and are also an important habitat around the country, we have three options. You either move back, which is very hard in a place like Miami Beach, you move up, which is what Jane talked about, you continue to pump sand on the beach at enormous cost, $100 million a mile for a 50 year project, or your armor the coast and risk losing the beaches.

So it’s a challenging, challenging set of conditions because the few that are truly sustainable are actually politically very difficult. So what’s happening here in Miami Beach and in Miami is actually really pretty progressive. Places like California where I live are still not really addressing the issues the way we’re seeing them here. Partly because they haven’t had to, but their time is coming.

Javier Soto

Thank you. So I imagine there’s a lot of communications directors from around the country in attendance at this conference, but I just have to say I think Miami Foundation has the very best one in the country. And we’re fortunate to have Matthew on our team. So Matthew I’d like to ask you to talk about the events three weeks ago and throughout the past three weeks, we had to make a pretty sharp pivot at the Miami Foundation given what was coming our way. You want to talk about that experience and how we organized ourselves and got to work?

Matthew Beatty

Sure, thanks Javier.

So we went into what I’ve been calling triage mode at the foundation. We came back from labor day weekend that Tuesday and very quickly realized that this storm was threatening Miami in a very significant way. And so we made an unprecedented decision right then that we had to pull all communications that were unrelated to Hurricane Irma. That was unique in the sense that we see our social platforms and our communications channels as more than just ways to talk about the work of the foundation. I tell nonprofits all the time that if you picked up a newspaper that talked about the same subject every day, would you read that newspaper? And the answer is no, but you read a newspaper to find out a little bit about several different subjects that are relevant to you or relevant to your community. So that’s how I see our social platforms at the foundations and all of our comms platforms as ways to communicate what is relevant about what’s happening in Miami. At that time that was the only thing that was relevant. And so nothing else mattered. Everything was about getting the information into our resident’s hands so that they could prepare and protect themselves from this incredibly dangerous storm.

 

So that was our first big decision, the second big decision was then what is the Miami Foundation’s response? And a couple of years ago, the leadership of our CEO, we had the foresight to put together a disaster response plan. And the plan had three tiers: if a disaster was in our local community, if a disaster was in our region, and then if a disaster was anywhere in the world, but affected populations in Miami. This was again, obviously what’s potentially going to be a local disaster. And so the response then was for us to open up a donor fund ant the foundation to raise money for recovery and response.

So literally in 48 hours, we created the fund, created a name for the fund, got a new webpage up on our site, created all of the communications and marketing materials and the look for it, built out the messaging and then started to push it out. And let the world know that even though this was probably three or four days before the storm was even scheduled to hit Miami, that we were already up and running with this relief fund to ensure that we had the resources ready to deploy as soon as the storm passed.

“I tell nonprofits all the time that if you picked up a newspaper that talked about the same subject every day, would you read that newspaper? And the answer is no, but you read a newspaper to find out a little bit about several different subjects that are relevant to you or relevant to your community. So that’s how I see our social platforms at the foundations and all of our comms platforms as ways to communicate what is relevant about what’s happening in Miami.”

That next day, that was Wednesday after Labor Day. Thursday and Friday schools were already closed. So our office closed and during that timeframe we got approached by two other entities, one individual and one organization who wanted to open up their own hurricane relief funds. So as Sean mentioned, I evacuated and as a lot of our team did, and while those in Miami are hunkering down their homes and I’m on the phone fighting incredible traffic getting north out of Florida, I’m on the phone with our CEO and with the comms team putting together the messaging and the names and getting these new funds together to get up onto the site. Literally having to pivot in less than 24 hours from just having one relief fund to having three relief funds, each with a particular focus, and all having to communicate this clearly and succinctly to a community that was incredibly scared.

So I would say the biggest takeaway from … and that was just leading up to it, I’m not even going to go into what has gone on past post storm, which is a whole other issue, but I think the key there was that knowing when to pivot and then just making that decision and going with it. And even thought we were in uncharted territory, the entire team we were just moving and executing and sometimes building the plane as you’re flying it is the only way to go and it’s better than being caught flat-footed and not taking action.

“So literally in 48 hours, we created the fund, created a name for the fund, got a new webpage up on our site, created all of the communications and marketing materials and the look for it, built out the messaging and then started to push it out. And let the world know that even though this was probably three or four days before the storm was even scheduled to hit Miami, that we were already up and running with this relief fund to ensure that we had the resources ready to deploy as soon as the storm passed.”

Javier Soto

Thank you Matthew, and just to add briefly to that, one of the funds is Caribbean Related that Matthew alluded to and that’s become quite a bit of the focus over the last couples of weeks especially after Maria came on the heels of Irma. And to date, after three weeks since we launched the fund, we’ve raised over $1.1 million in the three funds for relief efforts. With some significant additional gifts in the pipeline including one potential million dollar gift from a national foundation that we’re working on. None of that could have been possible without the incredible and aggressive efforts of our communications team.

The other piece, by the way, is we also were worried about our people. So the internal communication, we had a WhatsApp chat and everything else, just to make sure that we could track everybody, knew where everybody was and if they needed anything that we could get assistance to them. So for us it’s personal. When you’re living through the crisis and trying to respond to it, just like everyone who has a role in government down here, for us it was the same.

So I’d like to sort of take us where Chad started to take us to think about the slow motion disaster that’s looming for our community in the name of sea level rise. And maybe ask the folks up here to talk about what we are doing, and certainly there’s plenty being done especially here in the city of Miami Beach, the plans that we have for hardening our resilience, and Jane maybe you could talk a little bit about what the city of Miami is planning. And then what we ought to be thinking about that perhaps we aren’t thinking about yet. And finally, Matthew if you could talk about how we communicate that in this hyper-partisan, polarized climate that we live in where even something like this that should unite everybody becomes a source of division.

Philip Levine

Sure.

Javier Soto

Mayor maybe start with you on what we’re doing here on the beach.

Philip Levine

Sure, absolutely. Miami Beach almost has a three-prong program. Number one, which is immediate and urgent, which is stop the flooding in our low-laying areas brought about by sea level rise. And it wasn’t that long ago the western part of our city when all of a sudden you’d have a sudden day, I think we cloned the term ‘sunny day flooding’. The tide would go up, the water would reverse course and the next thing you know there’s water on the roads, people’s cars would be ruined and it’s spooky, it destroys confidence in your community and we saw this over many, many years. The issue was is that no one was really doing anything about it. It was like oh it will stop, oh it will go away, oh this is a unique situation, and little by little, it literally crept upon the city to the point where people were saying, “We gotta do something, we gotta do something.”

The issue with government is you have a lot of people that want to hire consultants that like to hire consultants that like to hire consultants. So what ends up happening is nothing gets done, I call it analysis paralysis. When I began in 2013, it was, is, our number one priority. So there’s no book that you can buy off the bookshelf that says if you’re running a city on the coast and you’re experiencing sea level rise turn to chapter 13, it’ll tell you exactly what to do. It doesn’t exist. So we had to just basically figure it out, find the answers. We had a lot of questions, but we had to find the answers. And we assembled all our engineers in one room and said, “We gotta do something.” And as simple as it was, we said let’s raise the streets in the low-laying areas, let’s put in pumps, let’s change our building codes and of course let’s raise our sea walls. And little by little it started to work. We weren’t perfect, we aren’t perfect today, but we’re learning so much as we go and showing progress.

I remember that we experienced a king tide and before I was mayor I didn’t know what king tide was, all of a sudden you become mayor and you become a climatologist, hydrologist, meteorologist and especially in Miami Beach. But we realized during these king tide periods, which we’re in right now, we need to make sure we protect. We’ve been able to, really the first step in a long journey for Miami Beach, make this work. We’ve been hit with unfortunate situations where you have a severe king tide along with a major weather event and the next thing you know you lose power and then the pumps don’t work and everyone will turn around and say, “It doesn’t work, what are you doing?” And the media will say, “You spent $18 trillion.” And you’re like, “No, no, we spent $100 million, we have $4 million to go and we’ve only done 15% of the cities.” So you have to be able to communicate and say, “Patience as we go along, this is working.”

And thank God during Hurricane Irma, I gotta tell you, we were out, I probably shouldn’t say this, but in the middle of the storm watching our pumps. And making sure our pumps were working and they were working and we had generators and they kept working. And the areas that we were able to improve, there was no flooding during the storm.

The second thing we’ve been able to do, of course, is increase and make us almost a poster child for sea level rising climate change. No one expected it, but we’ve done it. And people keep coming here, the media film makers showing what we’re doing. I was recently in a film called … documentary called Before the Flood with Leonardo DiCaprio. I played the Mayor of Miami Beach and it was a very compelling role. And when Vice President Al Gore came down and he and I were walking for his film sequel/prequel, you know the truth to power, on Indian Creek Drive right now, which we’re improving, we’re raising, we’re putting in new sea walls, the water was coming across, it was king tide, we showed it and literally you could see a couple little fish on the road.

It’s kind of a funny story, President Obama was in Paris during the climate accords, and during his speech he said, “You know in Miami there are fish swimming on the roads.” And next thing you know every fact checker in the world is like, “Okay is he exaggerating?” His right hand guy, his body guy calls me and says, “Mayor, the president just said that there’s fish swimming the streets in Miami. I hope that’s true, okay, because you’re about to get five million calls from the media.” And I said, “Of course they’re swimming, we got everything swimming, we got sharks, we call them developers. Everything’s here don’t worry about it.”

And that came out in his film. And then of course we’ve had other … So we’ve been able to use this as an amplifier to show the world if you don’t believe in climate change, you don’t believe in sea level rise, come on down to Miami Beach during king tide, we’ll convert you real quick. Looks what’s going on here.

And then the third thing is being able to show that we want to play our part. How? By joining the Rockefeller 100 Resilient Cities. Also, the Sierra Club Ready For 100 where we’re pledging that we’re going to make our city fully based on renewable sustainable energy in the future and we’ve changed our building codes to have incentors for lead certified building and we’re putting in water taxis and we have free trolleys everywhere and we’re not a manufacturing base, but we know that everyone uses cars and how can we reduce cars. So it’s been almost a three-prong effort going forward.

Javier Soto

Chad? Jane?

Jane Gilbert

So, we don’t just face sea level rise here actually. And in city Miami’s a little different, we didn’t have the impacts of king tide as dramatically as Miami Beach right away and it’s coming in slowly and we’ve been doing some of the same changes that Miami Beach does in a more incremental way in small, quiet areas doing our pumps and raising roads. But we still have an awareness issue in Miami actually. There isn’t the sense of, and events like Irma help us with that awareness for sure, but we still have a significant population in Miami that’s not so sure this sea level rise impacts them. And frankly on a day to day basis when you’re worrying about paying your electric bill and keeping your rent and feeding your kids, it’s not to the top of mind.

So how do you make it top of mind and how do you make it relevant to those people is a constant question that we have in our office because … And so we have in some of our lower income areas, they’re more impacted by the heat changes and the heat islands because they don’t have as much tree canopy. They’re also impacted by the fact that developers are now seeing more opportunities in higher land and so they could be displaced by some of this.

And so there are various ways that we are reaching out to make it relevant for the whole city because, as the mayor indicated, it takes significant infrastructure investment to also help us be resilient. In order to do that, we’re actually the mayor and the commission have voted to put a general obligation bond before voters in November. Half of that’s going to flood mitigation, sea level rise type improvements, but also to affordable housing and economic development, to transportation issues, to parks and cultural facilities. All of that development will take a resilience lens, it will all be looking at what are the impacts of sea level rise and heat.

As soon as I came, I’ve been in my position for a little under a year, and as soon as I came in we put together an interdisciplinary committee: our Resilient Infrastructure Review Committee. First thing we did, make sure we don’t build anything at this point that’s not thinking about what’s this facility, what’s this critical infrastructure, how’s it going to perform 50 years from now. If we want this to last 50 years, we got to make sure it can last 50 years. And let’s look at what those projections are.

Having the ability to learn from our partners in Miami Beach, to learn in the region we have a southeast Florida climate change compacts of the four counties, and they help us think about how do we need to project, what kinds of building codes should we be looking at and land use patterns. So it’s been very useful, I will say, it’s not a partisan issue in Miami. We have a generally republican mayor who is very vocal about his opposition to our president pulling out of the Paris summit … Paris Accord and has just penned a letter with the mayor of Houston to talk about the fact that this is the time we need to be talking about climate change. And so when it becomes real for everybody, it’s not a partisan issue, it’s a real issue.

Chad Nelsen

I’ll be quick because I know we’re about to run out of time, but I think we spent a lot of time at the conference talking about the pluses and minuses of communicating around these crises and these disasters like Irma. And they are moments in time where we can draw attention to these issues, but as they’re saying it was the preparation before, it’s the long-term planning that you’ve got to do day in, day out that are really the keys to addressing these issues. And in fact, after these disasters and crises, it’s easy to make really bad decisions because there’s a political imperative to rebuild stronger, not necessarily smarter. So it’s really about that day in day out planning that’s going on sort of over the next 50 years that’s going to prepare us for being resilient to these kinds of disasters. And ill leave it to Matthew to talk about how you actually convince people to do that in between hurricanes and in a state where you’re not allowed to use the word ‘climate change’.

“So it’s really about that day in day out planning that’s going on sort of over the next 50 years that’s going to prepare us for being resilient to these kinds of disasters.”

Matthew Beatty

So true. At the Miami Foundation we co-funded with the Knight Foundation a study that looked at how do you communicate about climate change and sea level rise in a way that actually insights engagement. And it looked at various populations and tested different messages on each population and saw what the response was. And so one of the biggest takeaways was that the fear mongering, the doom and gloom doesn’t accomplish anything. The sense that there’s an issue that we can’t solve that there’s nothing we can do, it’s out of our hands, doesn’t accomplish anything. Falls completely flat.

What worked best was this sense that framing climate change and sea level rise as an opportunity for a community and as a way for us to then determine how to solve these issues and then export that knowledge internationally. So you look at the Netherlands, people travel from all over the world to go and see how they have managed to literally keep the ocean at bay. And they’ve had this beautiful harmony of both keeping the water out and also learning how to live with water.

Now a lot of those solutions don’t work here because we sit on a limestone bedrock and so ocean water can just seep under us, but that then creates an opportunity for us to solve this issue in a way that maybe no other community around the world has been able to. So for the business community that message really resonated with them because again there could be a financial benefit to them.

 “And so one of the biggest takeaways was that the fear mongering, the doom and gloom doesn’t accomplish anything. The sense that there’s an issue that we can’t solve that there’s nothing we can do, it’s out of our hands, doesn’t accomplish anything. Falls completely flat.”

For millennials, these are the optimists of the world right now. They don’t want to be told that there’s an issue that they can’t solve. They’re incredibly aware of the importance of saving and protecting our environment for future generations and so they think that we can do something about that. And all that they’re looking for is leadership on the issue. Who’s gonna be in charge, who’s gonna step up and lead this effort and corral folks to solve this problem?

Another, and the mayor touched on this, another message that resonated with folks was just do something. This concept again like we were at the foundation. Building this plane as we’re flying it. Even if we don’t see the end goal right now, we at least have to be taking incremental steps that get us moving in the right direction. So building pumps, raising streets, is that the end all and be all solution? No, but is it a step in the right direction? Absolutely. And then we can figure it out as we go.

So, and I think the biggest takeaway was again framing this as an opportunity for communities helps get people engaged in solving the problem.

“Even if we don’t see the end goal right now, we at least have to be taking incremental steps that get us moving in the right direction. So building pumps, raising streets, is that the end all and be all solution? No, but is it a step in the right direction? Absolutely. And then we can figure it out as we go.”

Philip Levine

I just want to leave you a couple quick things. First of all, just to clarify Jane works for another mayor. I’m not the republican major, I’m the democratic mayor. In case some of you were saying, “I thought he was democrat.” Jane works for a great mayor in the city of Miami, Tomás Regalado, who’s an incredible mayor, but the point is we always say the same thing. The ocean is not republican, it’s not democrat, it just knows how to rise. And your communication professionals, one of the things we always try to do is take the complicated and make it simple. That’s the key, that’s the key to all communication.

And I’ll leave you with this, I wrote a story the other day, and I know this is a great fable maybe to use. And that’s the story of the three little pigs, that’s how I explained it to people. The people of Miami Beach decided that they don’t want to live in a straw house or a wood house, they want to live in a brick house. The key is, is making sure that people around Florida understand it’s better to live in a brick house and in the country and in the world because someway, somehow, you will pay. Whether it’s damage by Irma, damage by sea level rise, whatever it may be, you end up paying. It’s a perfect universe. So we have chosen to live in a brick house and the story of the three little pigs is a great way to take the complicated and make it very simple. Thank you.

“The ocean is not republican, it’s not democrat, it just knows how to rise. And your communication professionals, one of the things we always try to do is take the complicated and make it simple. That’s the key, that’s the key to all communication.”

Javier Soto

Thank you so much. There’s a lot of passion as you can see on the part of all these professionals. So we could talk about these issues for a very, very long time, but unfortunately we do have to segue to our next presentation, but I wan to thank all of you for your participation this morning. But more importantly, for your leadership and great work to help our community survive events like the one we just had three weeks ago and build a more resilient future.

Philip Levine

It feels like four years.

Javier Soto

It feels like three years ago, it’s been a long three weeks actually. So thank you all so much for all of your work.

Philip Levine

Thank you.

 

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