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What the business community can do about sea level rise

Mark Rosenberg is a busy man: he’s the president of FIU and the chairman of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce. And next week the Chamber hosts its annual Goals Conference, where Miamians can go and talk about all — seriously, all — the issues affecting the city.

We sat down with him for an interview that bounced from Latin America to mangoes to sea level rise. Here’s a bit of what he had to say.

If you enjoy this, there’s plenty more June 16- 17. Sign up for the conference here (Use the code NEWTROPIC2016 for a discount).

This is the first part of a two-part interview, and has been edited lightly for clarity and length.

Okay, first off, what does the Chamber of Commerce do? What is its role in Miami?

The Greater Miami and Greater Miami Chamber is one of the oldest if not the oldest private institutions in Miami. Maybe the only older one is the church. The Chamber was created in the early 1900s. Since then it has been a voice for the business community, has been a conscience for the community, has been the best and the highest platform to get thoughtful people together about the community’s prosperity, the community’s challenges.

One of those challenges is obviously sea level rise. It’s potentially an economic blow to the city. Can we turn it into at least something we can work with, or even an opportunity?

By the year 2030 we could lose up to 1 percent of our land mass. On a seasonal basis that could affect another 30 percent of our land mass. That could have a serious disruptive impact upon our channels of distribution and transportation and also we will run the extreme risk by then of significant disruption of our water supplies because of saltwater contamination of our fresh water.

We as an institution have an obligation to put our talent to work to find solutions, whether its mitigation like they’re doing in Miami Beach by raising roadways and having better drainage or finding was to protect our water supply from saltwater intrusion that is inevitable. We’re very much committed to that.

If you think about places like Amsterdam that historically have had serious water issues, there is a whole industry that has grown up around the mitigation exercise. Jobs are waiting to be created to help protect our community and keep it sustainable.

There’s another issue: We’ve been declared as ground zero by the president of the United States for sea level rise. Everybody in this country is going to look to us to see how we are solving the problem. They’re not just going to look to the municipalities to see if they’re going to start raising roadways, if they’re going to start building canals. They’re wondering, “Are they going to have to completely redesign their urban areas?”

But they’re also looking at the banks and financial sector and insurance sector and more generally the real estate sector to see how exactly you manage risk in situations where the property you might finance is going to be inaccessible because of water surrounding it in the period of time the bond or the loan would be out. So I think our business community has a lot of work to do to provide leadership or best practices for how to deal with these issues.

Are you seeing inklings of solutions yet, or are we still trying to figure out what we can solve and what we have to adapt to?

It’s not a linear process, it’s a zig-zag process. I see positive signs that the community is increasingly understanding that we’ve got some challenges. For example, I was recently with Mayor Gimenez at the North Miami Chamber, it must have been four weeks ago, he gave an address about the state of the community and half the questions afterward were about sea level rise from the business community, so I was encouraged by that.

I see mayors now understand that’s gotta rise to their top three set of issues, if for no other reason than that they’ve got to preserve property values. If their property values sink, that municipality will no longer be viable. I see indications of greater awareness and commitment to understanding what our options are. Whether there will be a willingness to take action remains to be seen.

North Beach is considered one of the last affordable neighborhoods on Miami Beach. Developers say many of the older, lower cost apartment buildings can’t survive rising seas without expensive improvements. Clearly it’s costly to make a city resilient. How do you avoid pricing out low-income residents?

You could build a high rise that is affordable. The question is how are you going to manage the height restriction issue? The P&L [profit and loss] has to work and I don’t know how it works unless you have height, but then you will have other challenges, like historical preservation.

It’s not insoluble, but you’ve got to be willing to let developers go vertical and then of course the square footage has to be proportional. I don’t know what the break even on that is, but it’s probably not 12 or 15 stories [which is what’s currently being discussed]. That’s been the issue in Surfside. The way they managed to keep the height restrictions is because they’re not trying to make it affordable.

What was your impression when you first moved to Miami in the 70s?

My impression was based on being raised in the Rust Belt and going to grad school in an industrial city [Pittsburgh] that was in decline. The opportunity to come to a place where the history hadn’t been written, to me that was tremendous. To be a part of something, to create something, and to be a part of that and write the history, that’s what really appealed to me.

I had studied Latin America and I had dedicated my life’s work to the people of Latin America and the Caribbean. To be able to live directly with them was, still is, a blessing. I come out of a diaspora experience, so whether it’s the Jewish community or Cuban or Haitian community, that part I identify with very readily. To me there’s no place I would rather live.

A lighter question: It’s mango season. What’s the best way to eat one?

Just at breakfast, slice them and get them on the plate at breakfast. There’s nothing better than a mango at breakfast. We live in the tropics, we’ve got to enjoy that. Fresh mango at breakfast and a cafecito at 3 and I’m good.

By WhereBy.Us Creative Studio
The WhereBy.Us Creative Studio helps clients big and small engage locals, through campaigns that use creative marketing, storytelling, events, and activations to build community, conversation, and impact.

  • Malagodi

    If you think that the Chambers of Commerce have been “a conscience for the community, has been the best and the highest platform to get thoughtful people together about the community’s prosperity, the community’s challenges” and that the results we all have to live with are right for you, then you’ll be happy to have them providing the “leadership” on sea level rise and climate change in Miami-Dade County.

    If however, you recognize that the economic disparities in MDC are among the worst in the nation, that the ratio of income to housing costs are higher in MiamI than in New York City, that the Chamber has supported the candidates of climate change denial, that they support fracking, that they are collaborating with the Koch Brothers, FPL and others in the dirty energy industry to foist the phony Smart Solar scam constitutional amendment on the November ballot; if you think about what these ‘leaders’ have done on transportation, then I suggest you be very, very doubtful about how they’ll look out for anyone but themselves in matters of sea level rise.

    • One example of how the CofC might exploit sea level rise for business: http://bit.ly/22lF2uu

      A potential PSA (teach your kids how to swim) slogan: “Sea Level Rise is good for business. Learn to swim.”

    • Ramblewood

      Sorry, my friend. If you are implying the Greater Miami Chamber has supported any candidates you would be mistaken. Our articles of incorporation have prohibited the Chamber from endorsing or supporting any candidate from day one. Not all Chambers are a like, but the Greater Miami Chamber is not a political animal, but is definitely deeply engaged on issues important to our community. And, today Sea Level rise is among the critical issues that we are engaged with along with transportation, affordable housing and a host of international opportunities to make our community better. Let’s not taint every chamber with your comments.

      • Malagodi

        Sorry? I don’t think so.

        Rick Scott and company, the Chamber; all tied together for mutual benefit. Just Google it.

        I did not say that the Chamber endorsed climate change deniers, I said it supports them, which it does through eager collaboration. If I am wrong, a good indication would be the Chamber’s support for the proposed Miami-Dade anti-fracking resolution. That would be a symbolic start. Let the Chamber also stand up for academic integrity by urging FIU to stop selling out its SLR resiliency programs to FPL’s and energy industry sponsorships. These kind of things would be a beginning of an honest interaction.

        But let’s start right now; the Chamber’s objective, clearly stated everywhere, is the promotion of profit ~ for it’s members. That’s ok, just stop pretending to be everybody’s guardian ad litem.

        And you didn’t deny any of my other assertions.

        • Ramblewood

          Don’t want to keep beating a dead horse, but you have mistaken us for the Florida Chamber that is involved with state level elected officials. All chamber are independent organizations. Our Chamber reports and is responsible only its members and the community we serve in South Florida. And, again we don’t do politics. In terms of your other issues, I encourage you to visit our webpage for details on all our community initiatives to educate our members and invite them to engage to make a difference for our community. And, yes, we hope our work can bring value to our members. That’s the purpose of a chamber, to stimulate free enterprise and enhance our member’s ability to compete. But, in addition, we go steps further to ensure that we educate and work toward building a sustainable community, which includes many issues like resilience, transportation and infrastructure and affordable workforce housing. All of these issue take a lot of work and cannot be solved by any single organization. It’s all about collaboration, education and a commitment to find solutions. Visit our website – http://www.miamichamber.com for a better understand of our mission.

      • Chris

        What has to Miami Chamber done up until now to promote action to not just MITIGATE climate change but to PREVENT it from happening. Please educate us on this. In my opinion, it’s clear they are a day late and a dollar short. When the National Chamber funds climate change deniers and belongs to organizations that promote such non-scientific policies, where has the Miami Chamber been? Have they spoken out in favor of Obama’s Clean Power Plan and the Paris Agreement, the only real plans that have come out with any hope of stalling off the worst of what’s the come? Doubt it. Have they passed resolutions in favor of climate plans that Congress is considering such as clean energy or ending subsidies for fossil fuels? Have they expressed these concerns to local Congressmen and Congresswomen and our Florida Senators? Please educate us. I’d REALLY like to know what you’ve done. Do they plan to buck FPL and the power monopolies in Florida to promote renewable energy, such as asking people to vote for Amendment 4 in August and vote AGAINST the FPL sponsored Amendment 1 in November? It’s pretty clear that on the national level the Republican leadership is kow-towing to the fossil fuel donors and has no real plan, which is represented in the voting behavior of our local Republican elected officials. Why has this turned so partisan? Where has the Chamber been to try to break through this mentality? Please educate us.

        • Ramblewood

          Chris: I appreciate your interest. I am afraid it is naïve to assume sea level rise can be prevented. It’s beyond anyone’s control. Mitigation is what we have to work with and it includes educating our members and members of Congress – we have done and continue to do so. Provide the information necessary to our members in South Florida so that they have the knowledge they need to address this growing concern is job one. In addition, we have informed congress of our concerns, as South Florida is ground zero for sea level rise. And, other Chamber located on the gulf or Atlantic coast are doing the same – so the work is cumulative. We have joined with Jay Butera | Sr. Congressional Liaison of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby and have successful convinced Congressman Carlo Curbelo and Congresswoman Ileana Ros- Lehtinen to sponsor a bipartisan bill to work for solutions on issues like sea level rise.
          All politics are local, so we start where we have influence. And, as you know politicians in the country are richly divided on this issue and others. We will continue to do what can be done locally and regionally. The key Chamber with maximum leverage at the national level is the U.S. Chamber in Washington. I encourage you to ask their role and work on this issue. Again, thanks for your passion on a major challenge facing the sustainability of our community.

          • Chris

            I think if you start with the premise that global climate change is mostly anthropogenic (man made), then you are being naive to think that the role of businesses in the political sphere through which the Chamber operates, has not had an impact on prevention efforts (or lack thereof) in public policy. Your statement comes across as disingenuous and makes me think that the Chamber dances around the subject of whether it’s man made, so as not to have to take the logical conclusion that (drastic) steps are needed as the scientific and environmentalist community has been saying all along. Every year of inaction means our planet gets more greenhouse gas emissions that could have been decreased with meaningful action. If you are to take the attitude that “it’s happening anyway,” without taking in the other realization that the amount of emissions we continue to allow will impact how much damage will occur (or whether we reach a critical feedback point), then you are not fulfilling your service to our community or to future generations. Either way, if the Chamber is beginning to have dialogue about education, it needs to realize that education includes meaningful policies like the Clean Power Plan, or perhaps market oriented policies like carbon taxes in lieu of Cap and Trade (which was supported by Republicans until they opposed ‘anything Obama.’) In the meantime, those two Republicans Congressional members have an 11% (Ros-Lehtinen) and 27% (Curbelo) environmental voting record in the last Congress. But more importantly, their efforts become moot in the face of an intransigent Republican leadership and now a Presidential candidate (Trump) whose energy plan would spell only further climate disaster. If they grudgingly join the bandwagon and can convince enough of their peers to follow suit, then all the better, but one simple action could change that overnight….by electing Democrats in their place. Perhaps that will send the message that this problem is not something that deserves grudging support. As for the National Chamber….some local Chambers have quit their membership over their climate policy. Of course, we’re only “Ground Zero” for climate change effects, so why would I expect our Chamber to do the same? https://www.warren.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=960

  • Malagodi

    If you think that the Chambers of Commerce have been “a conscience for the community, has been the best and the highest platform to get thoughtful people together about the community’s prosperity, the community’s challenges” and that the results we all have to live with are right for you, then you’ll be happy to have them providing the “leadership” on sea level rise and climate change in Miami-Dade County.

    If however, you recognize that the economic disparities in MDC are among the worst in the nation, that the ratio of income to housing costs are higher in MiamI than in New York City, that the Chamber has supported the candidates of climate change denial, that they support fracking, that they are collaborating with the Koch Brothers, FPL and others in the dirty energy industry to foist the phony Smart Solar scam constitutional amendment on the November ballot; if you think about what these ‘leaders’ have done on transportation, then I suggest you be very, very doubtful about how they’ll look out for anyone but themselves in matters of sea level rise.

    • One example of how the CofC might exploit sea level rise for business: http://bit.ly/22lF2uu

      A potential PSA (teach your kids how to swim) slogan: “Sea Level Rise is good for business. Learn to swim.”

    • Ramblewood

      Sorry, my friend. If you are implying the Greater Miami Chamber has supported any candidates you would be mistaken. Our articles of incorporation have prohibited the Chamber from endorsing or supporting any candidate from day one. Not all Chambers are a like, but the Greater Miami Chamber is not a political animal, but is definitely deeply engaged on issues important to our community. And, today Sea Level rise is among the critical issues that we are engaged with along with transportation, affordable housing and a host of international opportunities to make our community better. Let’s not taint every chamber with your comments.

      • Malagodi

        Sorry? I don’t think so.

        Rick Scott and company, the Chamber; all tied together for mutual benefit. Just Google it.

        I did not say that the Chamber endorsed climate change deniers, I said it supports them, which it does through eager collaboration. If I am wrong, a good indication would be the Chamber’s support for the proposed Miami-Dade anti-fracking resolution. That would be a symbolic start. Let the Chamber also stand up for academic integrity by urging FIU to stop selling out its SLR resiliency programs to FPL’s and energy industry sponsorships. These kind of things would be a beginning of an honest interaction.

        But let’s start right now; the Chamber’s objective, clearly stated everywhere, is the promotion of profit ~ for it’s members. That’s ok, just stop pretending to be everybody’s guardian ad litem.

        And you didn’t deny any of my other assertions.

        • Ramblewood

          Don’t want to keep beating a dead horse, but you have mistaken us for the Florida Chamber that is involved with state level elected officials. All chamber are independent organizations. Our Chamber reports and is responsible only its members and the community we serve in South Florida. And, again we don’t do politics. In terms of your other issues, I encourage you to visit our webpage for details on all our community initiatives to educate our members and invite them to engage to make a difference for our community. And, yes, we hope our work can bring value to our members. That’s the purpose of a chamber, to stimulate free enterprise and enhance our member’s ability to compete. But, in addition, we go steps further to ensure that we educate and work toward building a sustainable community, which includes many issues like resilience, transportation and infrastructure and affordable workforce housing. All of these issue take a lot of work and cannot be solved by any single organization. It’s all about collaboration, education and a commitment to find solutions. Visit our website – http://www.miamichamber.com for a better understand of our mission.

      • Chris

        What has to Miami Chamber done up until now to promote action to not just MITIGATE climate change but to PREVENT it from happening. Please educate us on this. In my opinion, it’s clear they are a day late and a dollar short. When the National Chamber funds climate change deniers and belongs to organizations that promote such non-scientific policies, where has the Miami Chamber been? Have they spoken out in favor of Obama’s Clean Power Plan and the Paris Agreement, the only real plans that have come out with any hope of stalling off the worst of what’s the come? Doubt it. Have they passed resolutions in favor of climate plans that Congress is considering such as clean energy or ending subsidies for fossil fuels? Have they expressed these concerns to local Congressmen and Congresswomen and our Florida Senators? Please educate us. I’d REALLY like to know what you’ve done. Do they plan to buck FPL and the power monopolies in Florida to promote renewable energy, such as asking people to vote for Amendment 4 in August and vote AGAINST the FPL sponsored Amendment 1 in November? It’s pretty clear that on the national level the Republican leadership is kow-towing to the fossil fuel donors and has no real plan, which is represented in the voting behavior of our local Republican elected officials. Why has this turned so partisan? Where has the Chamber been to try to break through this mentality? Please educate us.

        • Ramblewood

          Chris: I appreciate your interest. I am afraid it is naïve to assume sea level rise can be prevented. It’s beyond anyone’s control. Mitigation is what we have to work with and it includes educating our members and members of Congress – we have done and continue to do so. Provide the information necessary to our members in South Florida so that they have the knowledge they need to address this growing concern is job one. In addition, we have informed congress of our concerns, as South Florida is ground zero for sea level rise. And, other Chamber located on the gulf or Atlantic coast are doing the same – so the work is cumulative. We have joined with Jay Butera | Sr. Congressional Liaison of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby and have successful convinced Congressman Carlo Curbelo and Congresswoman Ileana Ros- Lehtinen to sponsor a bipartisan bill to work for solutions on issues like sea level rise.
          All politics are local, so we start where we have influence. And, as you know politicians in the country are richly divided on this issue and others. We will continue to do what can be done locally and regionally. The key Chamber with maximum leverage at the national level is the U.S. Chamber in Washington. I encourage you to ask their role and work on this issue. Again, thanks for your passion on a major challenge facing the sustainability of our community.

          • Chris

            I think if you start with the premise that global climate change is mostly anthropogenic (man made), then you are being naive to think that the role of businesses in the political sphere through which the Chamber operates, has not had an impact on prevention efforts (or lack thereof) in public policy. Your statement comes across as disingenuous and makes me think that the Chamber dances around the subject of whether it’s man made, so as not to have to take the logical conclusion that (drastic) steps are needed as the scientific and environmentalist community has been saying all along. Every year of inaction means our planet gets more greenhouse gas emissions that could have been decreased with meaningful action. If you are to take the attitude that “it’s happening anyway,” without taking in the other realization that the amount of emissions we continue to allow will impact how much damage will occur (or whether we reach a critical feedback point), then you are not fulfilling your service to our community or to future generations. Either way, if the Chamber is beginning to have dialogue about education, it needs to realize that education includes meaningful policies like the Clean Power Plan, or perhaps market oriented policies like carbon taxes in lieu of Cap and Trade (which was supported by Republicans until they opposed ‘anything Obama.’) In the meantime, those two Republicans Congressional members have an 11% (Ros-Lehtinen) and 27% (Curbelo) environmental voting record in the last Congress. But more importantly, their efforts become moot in the face of an intransigent Republican leadership and now a Presidential candidate (Trump) whose energy plan would spell only further climate disaster. If they grudgingly join the bandwagon and can convince enough of their peers to follow suit, then all the better, but one simple action could change that overnight….by electing Democrats in their place. Perhaps that will send the message that this problem is not something that deserves grudging support. As for the National Chamber….some local Chambers have quit their membership over their climate policy. Of course, we’re only “Ground Zero” for climate change effects, so why would I expect our Chamber to do the same? https://www.warren.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=960