Category Archives: 2017

Portugal. The Man: Trust the Native Alaskans

My friend John Gourley is, by his own admission, not a scientist. He is, however, a Native Alaskan and is today the lead singer of one of the most popular alternative rock bands on the planet: Portugal. The Man.

I had the opportunity to hang out with John after his recent set during Riptide Music Festival on Ft. Lauderdale Beach and I think his comments are some of the most important that I’ve ever shared with readers of my blog and am pleased to share part of my interview with you.

Before becoming the lead singer of a world famous rock band, John spent his childhood in rural Alaska. His childhood in the 80’s and 90’s was much different in many ways than for kids growing up in a big city like Miami or Ft. Lauderdale. While he did not have internet or Netflix or other modern devices, he filled his time skateboarding, snowboarding, exploring the outdoors, and tending to his family’s pack of Iditarod racing (mushing) sled dogs.

John knows and loves the Alaskan outdoors, but he is deeply concerned that it is disappearing before his and his friends very eyes because of climate change.

Alaska is a challenging state because it is filled with so much abundant nature and as John says, “it’s easy to overlook the impact of climate change while there is still so much rural environment remaining”.  It’s also challenging because the oil industry has a significant stake in producing and then transporting their products, but John knows that the Alaska that he loves is melting away and he told me that he worries about what will be left of that magnificent place when his daughter grows up as “more of the coastline melt[s] away”. Speaking of coastline, the state of Alaska has the largest amount of coastline of any state in the United States and Florida, including that beach where John’s band performed, has the second most coastline.

John’s message is a strong one and includes the suggestion that we listen to people in places like Alaska who are living with the impact of climate change right now, people like John and his friends, and especially indigenous people like Native Alaskans. As John explained, “It’s easy to be ignorant to this stuff or naive and just not see it, but trust somebody who’s been around it and grew up in a place that you think is cold. It’s not cold year-round anymore. Alaska’s not cold anymore. Trust the Native Alaskans. People who have been there for thousands and thousands of years.”

Almost two years ago I had the honor of giving a keynote address at the Florida Atlantic University Sea Level Rise Summit: Alaska to Florida after which I received a standing ovation and later learned that some in attendance actually cried while listening to my comments. At that time I could not fully understand the reaction or the emotion from the several hundred esteemed professionals that were in attendance – scientists, educators, and policy makers including many who had flown in from Alaska for the symposium. That is until yesterday when John portrayed so vividly what he has been seeing and explained it as if it were one of his songs.

John talked, for example, about the city of Shishmaref, Alaska and how climate change there is obvious to the naked eye; I mean that’s where you really see the effects of climate change. That’s where you see the permafrost melting, you see the island melting… it’s just an island and you see it melting away into the water and you see houses falling into the water.”

Like John said, he’s not a scientist but that does not mean that he doesn’t have eyes or want to see the climate change crisis addressed for himself, his daughter, and future generations. When asked about climate change and sea rise, Florida’s governor Rick Scott also says that he’s not a scientist but he does this to avoid talking about what’s happening to our state. And yet non-scientist Governor Scott leads a state where places like Miami Beach ($450 million) and the City of Miami ($200 million) are spending huge sums of money to begin addressing the sea level rise problems caused by our global climate change crisis that people all over South Florida – most of which, I might add, are also not scientists either – see with their own eyes and leads me to ask and wonder why ‘leaders’ like Governor Scott avoid this so very important issue. It can only be because of politics and that, in my view, is terribly shortsighted given that the climate change crisis is likely the biggest issue that my generation will ever face.

Pretending to not see what’s happening does not solve the problem, because climate change is not about donkeys or elephants, red states or blue ones, it’s much more important than politics.

As John said about what he’s been seeing and why we must set politics aside and focus on solutions before its too late, “It’s not normal. It’s something that we’ve all seen. Just leave the political views aside and just look at science and just trust it. Science is based on fact. Politics are based on the guy down the street that paid me to give a speech. Don’t let politics be a part of it.”

As I said at the end of my interview with John, I can’t say it any better than that, nor agree more. Rock on Portugal. The Man, and thanks again, John, for being so passionate and public about this important topic.

To learn more about Portugal. The Man, please check out the Miami New Times article      and while you at it consider listing to some of their most excellent music.

iPrep Academy Kids ‘Get It’

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Even thought it’s summer, the last month and a half for me and The Sink or Swim Project have been very busy. A blur on most days really with so much to do it reminds me of a song from the play Hamilton, ‘writing like you’re running out of time’. In fact, as I type this blog entry I am sitting in the airport to head back to New York for an incredible project that I will be able to tell you about very soon.

But before I head back to the Big Apple, I just have to share with you one of the very best experiences I had at a school when I was fortunate to speak at iPrep Academy, a magnet school that focuses on teaching in a technology-rich environment., just before the end of the school year.

Based on the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words, here are a few pictures from my wonderful visit at iPrep:

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As much as I hoped to inspire the iPrep Academy students during my visit, the truth is, as so often happens, these children inspired me.  Their passion and knowledge about climate change and sea level rise, about what is happening here to South Florida and what will happen in their (and my) lifetime was evident in their comments, questions and concerns.

The hope they gave me that day confirms that, together, our generation will solve our climate crisis.

So thank you Ms. Maria Thorne for having me at iPrep Academy and for leading a new generation of environmental stewards into the future to help fight climate change.

And thanks especially to your incredible students for their passion, as well as for giving me great hope that they will work with me to help solve our global climate crisis. As I always like to say, ‘Kids Get It’ and that was the case at iPrep Academy.

Caps & Gowns

Education is, of course, the foundation of all learning and with this in mind, I want to share with you what is likely my last blog post while I am still “officially” a high school student. This Saturday’s graduation ceremony will mark the end of my high school career and, I suppose, the official start to of my college years and life beyond.

With these milestones in mind I would like to share an article that I recently wrote related to the education that I have been fortunate to receive thus far as well as some of my motivations for attending college here in Miami in the form of the many challenges our fragile region faces.

If you are patient enough to read through the entire article, then you will find that I have ended this version with mention, and profound thanks, to many of the wonderful teachers that I have been privileged to learn from over the years. It is to those teachers and mentors schools that I dedicate today’s blog to and to whom I could never say thank you enough for all of your support thus far… 

An Inspirational Environmental Education
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With high school graduation a few days away I’ve been thinking a lot about my experiences in the classroom as well as what I’ve learned while exploring our magnificent environment and the challenges that our ecology and society will face in my generation’s future. I’ve been fortunate to have hiked to the top of a volcano in the Andes Mountains, swam with Giant Manta Rays at night in Hawaii, chased White Tip Sharks over a coral reef in the Galapagos, slept under a sky illuminated by millions of stars in the Everglades and on an Indian Reservation in South Dakota, and watched lions, elephants, and giraffes roam in the wild while on safari in Africa.

And along the way I’ve been inspired by my teachers, the people I’ve met around the world, my family and friends here at home and most certainly the things I’ve seen in our beautiful, natural world, especially those related to the water. Whether the marshes of the Everglades and our colorful coral reefs, or our sandy shores and whimsical mangrove habitats, it is the water that always touches my soul.

My travels and explorations aside, there’s truly no place like home and its fair to say that my educational experiences, as well as our region’s challenges, have influenced my decision to continue my education, and my work, right here in South Florida. And I could not be more excited. In fact, I can’t think of a better place to study marine biology and the environment, much less to have an impact on shaping our future, than in this special place.

Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean beyond it are being assaulted by South Florida’s growth and our community’s growing desire for fuel from Turkey Point’s antiquated nuclear power plant. Staying in South Florida allows me to work on solutions related to FP&L’s over-heated cooling canals that are leaking tritium, a toxic nuclear chemical, into the helpless waters off of our coast.

And speaking of power, much works needs to be done in our state so as to widely implement solar power so as to turn The Sunshine State into The Solar State. If successful, my generation has the opportunity to lead Florida into a sustainable future that holds the promise of producing an estimated 50% of our power needs from the sun.

As Biscayne Bay ends and the Florida Keys begin, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is home of the third largest living coral barrier reef system in the world. Our reef is home to over 500 amazing marine animals and plays a vital, but often hidden, role in South Florida’s environment and society. The reef impacts our region’s tourism industry, is habitat and home to an array of animals found in few places on earth, acts as an abundant food source to help feed us and is a natural barrier from destructive hurricanes, yet this spectacular ecosystem is at risk of extinction. Man-made pollution from the carbon dioxide that is being poured into our oceans has led to acidification which is bleaching and, thus, killing this majestic organism. I am looking forward to working to protect what is easily one of South Florida’s most special habitats.

And speaking of habitats, the only Everglades on earth is home to an incredible array of unique creatures and their homes that, together, comprise one of the most magical places on our planet. In a world filled with cell phones and downloads one only need to spend a few moments in the tranquility of the Everglades to see and hear what a treasure it is for all of South Florida.  Unfortunately, the Everglades is also under attack. Encroaching development from Florida’s 20 million residents, water polluted by man-made fertilizer that’s dumped and drained into our waters, and rising sea levels from our global climate crisis, amongst other threats, places the survival of the Everglades at the top of our local list of critical environmental challenges.

Our warming climate and sea level rise places our entire region at risk, and the damage has already begun. Our society must shift from our current fossil fueled economy to one based on sustainable energy or else places like Miami Beach, Key Biscayne, the Everglades and the Florida Keys will simply disappear. 97% of all scientists agree that man-made pollution is warming our climate and forecasts predict that oceans will rise three to six feet, or more, over the next few decades unless we change our ways. South Florida is already seeing the early impact of sea level rise and we are approaching a tipping point where trillions of dollars of real estate improvements and infrastructure, much less our economy, its’ tax basis and environment could be lost unless mankind changes its ways.

While many of these challenges are significant and even verge on ominous, I am confident that my generation has the passion, creativity and fortitude to solve them. Mankind has faced countless challenges ranging from famine, to wars, to space travel, and I am certain that South Florida is worth our best effort and investment to protect it and I look forward to helping lead the way.

So as I step away from one campus to another a few miles across town I say thanks to my teachers, family and friends who understand how important our tropical marine environment is to me and who have so kindly supported and shaped me. You have instilled into me a passion for our beautiful natural world that will last a lifetime and for that I am truly grateful.

Allow me to end this blog post by recognizing some of the most gifted and special people that you would ever want to meet: my teachers and mentors who have helped shape and educate me.

At Alexander Montessori, thanks to Ms. Arboleda, Ms. Becton, Mrs. Carlson, Mrs. McClendon, Mr. McGhee, Mrs. McGhee;

In Middle School at Palmer Trinity, thanks to Mr. Evans, Dr. Nagel, Ms. Rolling, Mrs. Schael, Mr. Tolmach; 

And in High School (also at Palmer Trinity), thanks to Mr. Barry, Mrs. Blackburn, Mrs. Calleja, Mrs. Casas, Mr. Cassel, Chaplain Cassini, Mr. Chapman, Mrs. Cetta, Ms. DeVilliers, Mr. Diaz, Sr. Garces, Mr. Godley, Sr. Gonzalez, Dr. Hammerschlag, Mrs. Hibshman, Mrs. Holstein, Coach Iglesias, Coach Jones, Coach Jennings, Ms. Kujawa, Coach Kelbick, Dr. Lane, Dr. Llinas, Dr. Mealey, Mr. Moorhouse, Mrs. Paschick, Coach Prosper, Sra. Quant, Dr. Regalado, Mr. Reynolds, Mr. Roberts, Coach Robertson, Mr. Sabogal, Dr. Salomon, Mrs. Sidhu, Dr. Singh, Coach Smith, Mr. Stoddard, Ms. Strauss, Mrs. Trujillo, and Mrs. Vanegas.

And last, but most certainly not least, a thanks and a “Legen17ary” shout out to all of my classmates in the class of 2017. Together we can change the world. NOW let’s go do it!

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P.s. a special thanks to Community News and the Miller family for publishing the article above, as well as for their support of my work. To read or share a copy of the article as published in the Community News, please click here.

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