A panel on the “Human Side of Climate Change” shows that we are all in the same boat.

On November 14th, the Global Shapers Miami Hub hosted a panel event on the Human Side of Climate Change that brought together experts from issue areas such as luxury real estate, immigration, marine science, and community organizing.

According to the Pew Research Center, about 60% of U.S. adults say climate change is impacting their community. Nearly a third say it’s affecting them personally.

Here in Miami, considered by many experts to be ground zero for climate change, we are among those regions that fit into both categories. Florida as a whole is already experiencing rising sea levels, record heat waves, and more powerful storms. We saw this with Hurricane Irma in 2017 and again this year with Hurricane Michael, which killed dozens of people and devastated communities in our state’s panhandle.

However, in our current political landscape, climate change remains a contentious issue. This, despite a government report warning that the cost of inaction will have disastrous effects on our country’s economy, infrastructure, and health among other areas.


Co-Hosts Shaan Patel and Melany Valderrama show off their T-Shirts

So why is it difficult for so many people here in Florida to empathize with the issue despite mounting data? Perhaps because people still see it as a political issue instead of a human issue.

As members of Miami’s Global Shapers, we are committed to improving the state of the world at a local level. We understand that this starts by having honest conversations within our community about their needs.

The Global Shapers of Miami hosted a community conversation in Wynwood, focused on the human side of climate change, in order to better grasp the breadth of the issue in a local way. The prompt of the conversation, set by Radical Partners, was to find “100 Great Ideas” to combat climate change.


Panelists and Hosts at Dasher and Crank

The event convened experts from environmental and health research, immigration, real estate, and climate gentrification to demonstrate how interconnected these issues are.

“How does the segmentation of these issues affect us? Everything is related,” said Lucia Speroni, a Science Advisor with Debris Free Oceans. Her volunteer-run organization focuses on educating communities about managing plastics and wastes.

“Zika, Red Tide…all are affected by the quality of our water. We are all part of the ecosystem,” said Speroni.

South Florida is also home to immigrants from across the world, especially Latin America and the Caribbean. Melissa Taveras of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, which advocates for immigrant communities across the state, says her group has worked with climate change refugees moving to Florida, including Puerto Ricans displaced by Hurricane Maria.

“The people we service find themselves in extreme poverty and violence that they are forced to flee,” said Taveras. “We find climate change as a multiplier to these issues. Farmworkers are not able to build the same amount of crops and people don’t have access to food.”

Groups like FLIC and other community organizers emphasize the importance of building power within communities, especially as many residents feel that the government is not responding to their concerns.

“We’re low-income, we’re afterthoughts,” said Paulette Richards, a longtime resident, and activist from Liberty City who has seen the effects of climate change gentrification there. Richards has advocated for the rights of people in her neighborhood as developers have set their sights on higher elevated areas of Miami, like hers.  “We’re not part of that conversation, we’re not even at the table of that conversation.”

Ralph Choeff, an architect known for his tropical-modern designs, said that while education is important, government must also show leadership on climate change and take legislative steps for businesses to act for the collective good.  “Without leadership people are stagnant. This is an emergency.”


Panelists Ralph Choeff, Melissa Tavares, and Paulette Richards

Choeff set up a framework for talking about climate change solutions into two categories: proactive and reactive. For example, a proactive solution offered was banning single-use plastics in order to lessen our carbon footprint. A reactive solution offered was increasing building code base elevation levels to accommodate sea level rise.

What is clear is that fighting climate change will not be limited to one community or one solution. All of us, from luxury real estate developers to community organizers, will need to open our hearts, minds, and ears to our fellow Miamians and work together to magnify our efforts.

We encourage our fellow community members, no matter where you live or what industry you work in, to be part of this change — attend a beach cleanup; talk to your neighbors about recycling properly; invite your children to help reduce your household plastic waste; attend your local municipal council meetings or the county commissioner meetings and share your thoughts on proposed legislation; or plant trees on your property to help combat heat island effect. On behalf of the Global Shapers of Miami, we look forward to hearing your voice!

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Co-written by The Environment and Sustainability group of the Global Shapers Miami Hub

Shaan Patel, Abhijeet Redekar, Manuel Stoilov, Joanna Suarez, Melany Valderrama, and Rebecca Willett