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‘Seas are rising, and so are we’

For a year and a half, Kamalah Fletcher has been working tirelessly to create a venue that encourages local leaders to speak more critically about the impact of climate change at the community level. As one of the organizers of the People’s Climate March, Fletcher passionately chanted “the seas are rising, and so are we.” It was a reflection of her desire to urge the community to take direct action on climate change.

As a field organizer for Moms Clean Air Force in Florida and Senior Director of Community Engagement and Learning at Catalyst Miami, an organization working to identify and launch innovative community building strategies throughout Miami, Fletcher has helped organize a summit that will encourage community leaders to converse and collaborate on the issue of climate change and its impact on low-income communities.

“As a resident of Miami, I’m part of a family and a community, and I’m learning the science. I’m also considering the people aspect. This is about communities as much as it is about my own life,” Fletcher said. “I’ve been working and trying to figure out how we make sure Miami is taking bold action around adjusting and adapting to climate change. How do we get people involved on every level of society — economic, racial, age? How do we get everyone involved?”

On Saturday, Jan. 30, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Catalyst Miami is organizing the Anti-Poverty Summit: Building Climate Resilience and Social Equity in South Florida. It will bring together community leaders such as Jainey Bavishi of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, Miami-Dade County Chief Resilience Officer James Murley, and Village of Pinecrest Mayor Cindy Lerner, among others.

The summit will consider both the science of climate change, and the very real impacts it will have on some of South Florida’s most vulnerable populations. We explored some of the topics being discussed at the summit with one of the moderators — Nicole Hernandez Hammer, a climate researcher with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

What is the relationship between climate change and equity?

When you look at the impacts of climate change, you see that communities of color are disproportionately vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. I specifically work on the issue of sea level rise in Latino communities. These are the people that are the most vulnerable to sea level rise. In Miami, we have have some of the largest growing Latino populations, and a large portion of Latino populations live on coastal communities.

So in South Florida, we’re moving forward in terms of adaptation to the impacts of sea level rise. We’re installing pumps and roads, but these are all happening in places that are not communities of color. We need to think about adaptation in ways where its equitable. We need to consider adaptation efforts in places where everyone has access to flood release and resources that help communities facing the brunt of climate change.

What are some of the key points you hope to discuss at the summit?

Nicole Hernandez Hammer (Courtesy of Catalyst Miami)
Nicole Hernandez Hammer (Courtesy of Catalyst Miami)

I’m going to be moderating one of the first panels of the day, and I’m giving everyone a quick primer on what  climate change is, the future impacts, and what folks can do about climate change. We’ll have a question and answer session with the audience afterwards. The goal is to lay the groundwork for the discussion around equity issues and climate change in South Florida.

Some of the key things that I’d like to focus on is problems with funding, political influence, and resources for adaptation in low-income communities. By analyzing or assessing the vulnerability of climate change impact solely on economic perspectives, some of the most vulnerable lose out. Let’s not just say, “Oh, it’s flooding.” Let’s go into these communities and educate them about why it’s happening, and what can be done, so that community members are compelled to advocate for themselves. These are places that haven’t gotten pumps, places that need roads raised, and it hasn’t been done the same way it has been prioritized in Miami Beach or other high real estate areas.

What are some of the specific areas that are not necessarily getting the adaptation resources they need?  

You have Opa-locka, Hialeah, Shorecrest, parts of Downtown Miami, Homestead, and Cutler Bay.

For example, during the king tide, we’ve seen a lot of flooding in the last 100 years. Miami Beach is spending $500 million on flooding caused by sea level rise, clearing the roads and draining the streets. There’s a lot of action. By contrast, in Shorecrest, there’s open electrical wires sitting in puddles. There’s not as much action in the low income areas. What we need is to also install pumps and elevate the roads there, not only in the high-income areas. Instead, you have people trapped in their houses who can’t make it to work because of all of the flooding in their neighborhood.

On the flipside, you also have places like Liberty City confronting climate gentrification. As the tides move in, people are going to move into the higher areas, where the land is elevated higher. This gentrifies those places, exposing a vulnerability in different ways, and we’re just beginning to see how all of that will play out.

What’s the end goal of the panel?

All of this information is readily available to academia and government, but it isn’t available to the general public. We think this is important, critical, and timely information. We want to give people resources that not only deal with climate change as something we can’t avoid, but also advocate for adaptation and sustainability. There are a number of organizations that represent vulnerable communities that will be at the summit, and the hope is that we open up the discussion and conversation with community members, as well.