This Miami organization wants to tackle climate change before things get “doomier and gloomier”

Climate change is an issue that isn’t going away any time soon. It’s weighty and sometimes feels too overwhelming to dig into. The CLEO Institute has worked for nearly a decade to change that perception, and the conversation around the topic.

We spoke with Caroline Lewis, founder of the CLEO Institute, about the organization’s upcoming Empowering Capable Climate Communicators symposium, and about what’s shaping the local conversation on climate change.

What makes this symposium different from others?

Caroline says that the ECCC symposium was once extremely focused on the science behind climate change. And on identifying the science behind the causes and effects, while identifying mitigation efforts. Over time, it’s grown to include other topics to highlight the broad impact of increasing temperatures and rising seas.

“I think the symposium is trying to provide multiple lenses to the climate crisis. From the science behind climate change to hydrology, to the economy, to gentrification to social justice lenses. It really is a one-stop shop approach to it,” says Caroline.

And beyond the wide base of discussion, she said the symposium is designed to be actionable. Caroline says the vast array of topics and speakers is meant to make it easier for people to find their entry way, or spark, to get involved in addressing the issue of climate change.

“We have to use triggers and for some people it’s the economy, things like the cost of solar and wind energy coming down,” she says. “For some it’s humanity and biodiversity, and things like coral reefs. And for some it’s legacy — we’re supposed to leave the world better than we found it, and we’re not doing that.”

How do you balance the “doom and gloom” of the climate conversation with keeping people motivated to tackle the issue?

“I don’t even know if it’s possible,” Caroline says. But she said that she’s tried to remain optimistic.

She says that when people try to deflect away from the troubling news of climate change she notes that, “it’s only going to get doomier and gloomier if we don’t talk about it.”

The CLEO Institute and other climate change advocates also try to stress that the window of time to address these issues is closing soon.

“The science is screaming at us,” she says. “We have to call it what it is, but we have to see the opportunity it’s providing for us.”

What aspect of the climate change discussion needs more attention?

Caroline said that more focus should be placed on Miami’s aging and failing septic tank system, and on general infrastructure.

She also thinks the climate change conversation has to focus more on people living at or below the poverty line in Miami-Dade County, as they don’t have the resources to address major infrastructure needs at their homes or to pay for things as common as fans or air conditioners as summers continue to get warmer.

How should people try to get involved?

Caroline suggests things like conserving energy, eating less meat, and using fewer plastic products but ultimately thinks it’s about folks finding their voice, and using it to spread the word about climate change.

She says CLEO takes a two-pronged approach by trying to improve climate literacy and community engagement.

“I ask people to gauge where the are on that knowledge scale and how can you move up. Then the next thing is the engagement scale,” Caroline says.

Some of her recommendations on moving up include reading up on climate change, and understanding more of the science, and then finding a way to connect that info to your skill set as you engage others.

Caroline says she’s something like a 12 out of 10 on the engagement scale because of how much time she spends discussing climate issues. But on the climate knowledge scale?

“I’m about a six or six point five and I’ve been doing this for ten years. There’s always more to learn,” Caroline says.

You can find more information on the CLEO Institute symposium and buy tickets on the organization’s website. There are discounted tickets available for students and teachers. There are also some discounted tickets and assistance for the general public if you email [email protected]