Do you ever ask yourself “what will become of our future?” From an environmental perspective, it is an important question as Miami sits at ground zero for sea level rise. The environmental challenges we are set to face will be determined by our success to build the infrastructure needed to make our city more resilient and also to enforce policies and programs necessary to achieve environmental sustainability.
We already know that the science behind climate change is undisputed. As the planet warms, glaciers and ice sheets melt, causing sea levels to rise at unprecedented rates. Other environmental issues relating to climate change of concern to our community include stronger hurricanes, more frequent flooding, and salt-water intrusion into our fresh water aquifers. Scientific evidence shows that climate change will bring vast economic and social disruption to Miami-Dade, a city that is projected to double its population by 2100, and where sea level is estimated to rise by three to six feet.
What efforts are currently in place to address climate change in Miami? And what must we do to keep moving forward to deal effectively with negative impacts? It is imperative that we redouble our efforts locally and at the state-level to enhance resiliency and sustainability.
Defining Resiliency and Environmental Sustainability
The term ‘sustainability’ has been gaining prominence since the 1992 Rio Declaration when the world’s governments endorsed the objective of sustainable development defined as achieving economic, environmental, and social development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Important for this approach was the call to “think globally, act locally.”
The term ‘resiliency’ is a relatively new term, used with increased frequency by architects, planners and vulnerable urban cities under threat of sea level rise. The Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities Challenge defines resiliency as “the capacity of individuals, communities and systems to survive, adapt, and grow in the face of stress and shocks, and transform when conditions so require. Building resilience is about making people, communities and systems better prepared to withstand catastrophic events—both natural and manmade—and able to bounce back and emerge stronger from these shocks and stresses.”
Defining sustainability and resiliency is important for all groups to be able to work towards common goals.
Current Resiliency and Sustainability Efforts in Miami
Miami has been actively building a more resilient and sustainable community for over two decades. Since the turn of the millennium we have seen the creation of a number of environmental education and advocacy programs by grassroots organizations such as Dream in Green, Citizens for a Better South Florida, Friends of the Everglades, Tropical Audubon Society, amongst others. Also major centers, like the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center, the Deering Estate, Fairchild Botanical Gardens, South Florida Parks as well as other institutions like Miami-Dade College Earth Ethics Institute and the Everglades Foundation have played a key role in our initial sustainability efforts with the overarching goal of protecting our community’s natural environment.
In 1997, the Environmental Education Providers of Miami-Dade County, Inc. was created as a consortium of local non-profits, government agencies, universities, and K-12 schools, who share a common interest in providing environmental education to the residents of our community. More recently, we have seen organizations with an international mission such as the Nature Conservancy set foot in Miami. The formation of the Sea Level Solutions Center at Florida International Universitykeeps us up to date with scientific research and data on sea level rise and its impacts. Groups such as Citizens’ Climate Lobby are building a grassroots climate movement to hold leaders accountable and in tune with the realities of science. In addition, organizations driven by a social mission such as Catalyst Miami, are implementing training programs to increase knowledge of the effects of climate change on public health.
Foundations have also changed their focus and have been successful in securing funding for environmental initiatives. For example, in recent months the Key Biscayne Community Foundation secured one of three U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Environmental Education Regional 4 grants to address water quality and shoreline stewardship in Key Biscayne. At a similar level, the Miami Foundation took the lead in writing an application for the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities program which saw Greater Miami and the Beaches selected to be part of its global-resiliency building network.
At the governmental level, various cities have been working together with community organizations to educate residents about our current and future environmental issues. City of Miami Beach has put into action an aggressive plan to combat the effects of sea level rise. “Sunny day flooding” events are now common and the city has committed to spending between $400 and $500 million on infrastructure improvements, pump stations and repairing sea walls. The Board of County Commissioners has made important commitments to prepare the County for a sustainable future. This fiscal year, Mayor Gimenez budgeted $11 million for beach renourishment projects and the enhancement of Miami-Dade’s tree canopy.
Miami-Dade County Water and Sewer Department, the largest water and wastewater utility in the Southeastern United States, has in place a wide-reaching water conservation program and is developing a plan for sustainable energy management to significantly lower its electricity bill. Furthermore, it is revamping the Department’s resiliency efforts to prepare, recover and adapt to climate-related events such as sea level rise, flooding, higher average temperatures, storm surge, and wind.
As new members of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities Network, Miami-Dade County, the City of Miami and the City of Miami Beach will receive funding and support for Chief Resilience Officers (CROs). The three CROs will work directly with county and city leaders to develop a joint resilience strategy. This strategy will involve outreach and coordination with the other 32 municipalities in the region.
Miami Dade County’s Office of Resiliency is leading the way in regional sustainability. The County’s successful Sustainable Buildings Program and Electricity Master Plan focus on County-owned buildings while the GreenPrint Sustainability Plan has a community-wide focus. The County’s recent successful grant proposal for the City Energy Project to reduce building-related electricity consumption provides hope for the future. The County is addressing issues related to climate change adaptation planning, including climate resiliency in vulnerable communities.
Other efforts that should not be overlooked include conferences and events that help educate and raise awareness about environmental issues including the annual Southeast Florida Regional Climate Leadership Summit and Baynanza. Finally, we must not forget about local corporations – all types – with strong philanthropic and corporate social responsibility principles, and the hundreds of K-12 schools that are going green and embracing environmental education.
What the Future Holds
It is clear that Miami has taken some important steps involving funding, regulations, policy and program implementation to enhance resiliency and sustainability. Effective approaches for resiliency and sustainability require local action, county and state-level interventions and federal government initiatives working together in a synergistic and complementary way. The case of Miami shows that local and city-level initiatives have gained considerable ground. Building a more resilient and sustainable Miami is not a “one-man job.” We need to involve government at all levels, as well as educational organizations, the scientific community, the private sector, non-profits and citizens, to move the agenda forward.