Category Archives: Ben Kirtman

There Will Be Riots & Blood In The Streets

Welcome to The Sink or Swim Project’s first “vlog” (video blog). You can watch the video below or you can read my old-school post like I’ve been publishing for years. Let me know what you think about the vlog or the post, or anything else. 

The recent holidays reminded me how much I love my family traditions.

Whether it’s how we decorate our home for Halloween, traveling to the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee to have Thanksgiving dinner with 90 or so members of my mom’s side of our family, singing Silent Night during Candle Light Service at Church on Christmas Eve here in Miami or spending New Years’ Eve under a pitch black sky painted with millions of stars on the remote island of No Name Key. If given a choice, or a vote, I’d not change a single one of those traditions or many others that I treasure.

And I don’t think I am much different than most people. Most folks don’t seem to like change whether in their own holiday traditions or their day to day lives. I get it.

In order for us to fix our climate change crisis we will, however, need to conceive and embrace the word change on a massive, likely often uncomfortable scale, global scale and that starts right here in the USA. But it will be hard. Very hard is my guess. Perhaps approaching going to war hard in some ways in terms of the short term sacrifices, pain and change that’s needed to save our planet much less mitigate the economic and social impact on society.

“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” 
– George Orwell, 1984

As 2019 begins there are examples around us of just how difficult these changes will be, especially the early or voluntary pioneering ones that are popping up all over planet earth. To some people these changes and the resulting response will seem are straight out of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four or Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange but they will not be some view of dystopian fiction but our reality.

Autonomous electric cars?

Imagine what people in most of the last century would have thought about news of self-driving vehicles yet all of a sudden they are coming true all over our planet as I type these words. And while we are not (yet) at the point of the Jetson’s promise of flying cars it’s clear that industries and governments are embracing the promise of more efficient, less costly, and safer transportation. General Motors has announced that it is shifting its entire line-up towards electric cars. Ford has done just the same thing, announcing some layoffs and a shift to electric cars.

Insurers all over the planet know that 94% of all accidents are tied to human error and realize that the need for auto insurance in the future will greatly diminish as self-driving cars become prevalent and are, therefore, planning to focus their businesses in other areas of risk over the next five to ten years.

Wielding rocks and knives, Arizonans attack self-driving cars

And yet, people are fighting back against their fears that machines are taking over just as would be the case in a science fiction novel. The recent article entitled Wielding rocks and knives, Arizonans attack self-driving cars sure caught my attention and is just one example of our near term future filled with change and transition. Waymo, a part of Google, makes self-driving cars and vans and since 2017 has been piloting them in places like Chandler Arizona.

Just a few months ago the New York Times ran a story about how there have been almost two dozen attacks on these vehicles by people with concerns over the use of the artificial intelligence technology they use, their safety or the possibility that some people could lose jobs. Some have thrown rocks. Some have slashed their tires. Others have tried to run the vans off of the road.

Yellow Jacket Riot

Yellow Vests, Tear Gas, Water Cannons & Guns

On Christmas Eve the picture above caught my attention and is, I fear, a precursor to the decades ahead and what many will face in transitioning towards a sustainable future. A future that will not be achieved, it seems, without established industry and many good people all over the world fighting back. Along the way people will be jailed, beaten and perhaps killed. If people are already attacking cars, for gosh sake, when the stakes really start to increase I think we are in for some dark, warlike times.

This picture is of a policeman in Paris who had pulled his gun out on French citizens, protesters who had taken to the streets for the sixth weekend in a row to riot against a proposed carbon tax, a device designed to nudge consumers away from fossil fuels such as gasoline and towards sustainable solutions such as electric cars, public transit, walking and so forth. In November and December those riots evolved into protests over a wide range of frustrations including wage stagnation and the French government including President Macron but it started with news of the new carbon tax.

The good news is that the police officer in this picture did not fire his gun and understandably was responding to threat of the large crowd that approached him. That situation was diffused but others will not, I fear, be so lucky in the future as the need for such taxes and other changes in our ways of life increase as global temperatures rise.  The so called Yellow Vest riots, led by people wearing yellow vests in solidarity over their concerns, have continued thus far in 2019 and what is happening should alarm all of us but also should serve notice of just how hard the changes we will need will be. Yellow Vest riots in France thus far in 2019 have seen:

A river boat that houses a restaurant on the Seine River set on fire.

Motorcycles and cars all over Paris burnt by protesters.

Smoke and tear gas covering the Orsay Museum and famous gold dome of the French Academy.

A government building, the Ministry for Parliamentary Relations, attacked and officials in that building evacuated.

Police and their equipment all over France attacked and destroyed.

Vandalism, looting and chaos filling French streets by as many as 50,000 protesters a night.

“In the scientific community the urgency has always been clear—if we want to substantially slow the warming of the climate, then dramatic reductions in CO2 are required.”

– Dr. Ben Kirtman, Professor of Atmospheric Science, University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science

No, these revolts and riots are not out of some science fiction movie but real life. Real people faced with changes that they perceive will hurt their wallets and ways of life. And yet, without starting to truly solve our climate change crisis at this time the cost will only rise and rise until the time comes that it’s too late.

As 2019 begins all of us must consider how we can leave this place we live in, earth, in better shape by the ends of our lives than we found it when we were born. And that starts with eliminating carbon pollution from our atmosphere and oceans.

“It will take dramatic and immediate reductions in CO2 emissions, both for the U.S. and globally, to achieve that goal.”

– Dr. Brian Soden, Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science

Consider a report just out by an independent economic research firm, the Rhodium Group, that uses data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration and estimates that carbon emissions increased 3.4% in 2018, the largest increase in eight years. An increased fueled, pun intended, all over our economy from Buildings and Industry to Transportation and Electrical Power. The scientific data shows us that carbon dioxide levels are higher today than they have been in the past 800,000 years.  And the science shows us that it will not be sufficient to stabilize our climate, it will require that in the decades ahead that we cool it. Experts estimate that to stop more warming, more damage, that 2020 (NEXT YEAR) needs to be the peak of man’s global greenhouse gas production and that over the 50 years that follows we will need to reduce emissions to zero and then beyond that produce negative emissions.

We can, of course, elect to not change our ways and allow the continued growth to warm our planet to catastrophic levels that leave us no time to make the dramatic changes that are needed to offset the worst possible outcomes, outcomes that threaten the very survival of places like Miami, the Everglades and the Florida Keys. Outcomes that will lead an estimated 2.5 Million people in South Florida to become climate refugees and the same thing to happen to hundreds of millions of people all over earth. The choice is ours.

And when I say ours I mean every single person’s on the planet. The climate change crisis is not strictly a problem caused by the United States, nor one that we will solve alone. That’s why what’s happening in places as different as Arizona and France are telling about just how hard all of this will be. China, for example, produces 27% of global carbon emissions and, thus, countries of every size, region and political persuasion on earth must come together for the good of humanity and this place we call home. Global diplomacy on an urgent scale is needed and the time has come to set politics aside, educate people, create a plan and begin to implement transformational solutions to the problem.

Of course, if we don’t take serious action, actions that will forever change how we travel, conduct commerce and live, then the science will only become more and more ominous.  And as temperatures and seas rise the riots, revolts, violence and madness will exponentially grow. What we see happening all over the world including here in the US will, I fear, be looked back upon as the beginning of the real upheaval and chaos unless we change. And no, none of this is or will be science fiction but the lives we have chosen because of fossil fuels.

Speaking of the recent holidays, Happy New Year to you. Here’s a new year’s wish to hoping that late in my life I can still celebrate Christmas in Miami and New Years on No Name, that those places and countless others all over earth will be accessible to my family and all of the generations in the future.

Bravo Broward! Miami-Dade’s School Children Deserve Better From Our School Board & County

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It’s time that the Miami-Dade School Board and the Miami-Dade County Commission get serious about our climate change crisis and the future that Miami-Dade’s children face in a South Florida that will be increasingly impacted from sea level rise. Those children need to be informed about the facts and science behind climate change, including sea level predictions so that they can become engaged in creating sustainable solutions to mitigate and, hopefully, solve the problem. We do not have time to allow climate change to be seen as a political issue and to not educate and engage students who will be so directly impacted by this growing crisis is unacceptable.

Miami-Dade County’s public school system has about 345,000 students attending 392 schools. The children in those schools will soon inherit the climate change crisis and it will be up to today’s kids to most directly fix problems that threaten South Florida’s very future. To say that we face a significant challenge is a ridiculous understatement and for that reason I’ve been trying to get the Miami-Dade County School Board and the Miami-Dade County Commission’s attention in hopes that, together, we can create programs to educate, engage and energize children about climate change. Such work could start small with an hour a year of climate change science education.

I am not alone in my knowing that the sooner we educate our region’s children the sooner they can commence to being a powerful part of the solution. The lack of a response from the County and School Board to requests that we discuss creating a program and platform for students is a growing frustration by many here in Miami-Dade. Unfortunately, the  leaders of a number of forward thinking local institutions all over Miami-Dade have expressed their frustration to me, the same frustration I’ve had, over the lack of response or action I’ve received from the Miami-Dade School Board, its Superintendent and various people in the Miami-Dade County government, when approached about creating a such program. The time has come to re-double our efforts.

Miami-Dade’s apparent lack of interest in what will be the greatest challenge today’s children face in their lifetimes needs to change and it needs to change quickly. We have a moral obligation, I feel, to inform children about climate science and to provide them opportunities to create sustainable programs that can make our community, country and world a better, cleaner place for the rest of their lives and for generations to come. Sadly, the adults in charge of the County and School Board are letting our children down and that needs to change.

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The good news, and it’s really great news, is that our neighbor immediately to the North, Broward County, is enthusiastically engaging children about climate change and sustainability and has already laid the groundwork for Miami-Dade to learn from and, I would hope, follow. Broward County Public Schools, in partnership with Broward County’s Environmental Planning and Community Resilience Division, has created a platform for climate change inspiration that offer opportunities for its 271,500 students and 234 schools to learn about the science and become part of the sustainable solutions we so desperately need. Broward’s visionary leadership led to yesterday’s very first ever Broward Youth Climate Summit and to understand how serious Broward’s adults are about helping students engage in solving our climate crisis, to see how those amazing adults truly ‘get it’, you need only read the Broward Youth Climate Summit’s Mission Statement which begins as follows:

To convene, engage, connect and empower young people for action on climate change in South Florida through the Youth Climate Summit and other leadership opportunities, and to create a climate literate generation who: understands the essential principals of climate science, communicates about climate and climate change in a meaningful way.

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And to those who wonder whether encouraging young kids to learn about climate change or become involved in sustainability solutions is a good idea I can tell you first hand that it works beautifully in Broward County. As the Key Note Speaker Panel’s Moderator yesterday I’ve seen what the amazing teachers from all over Broward, happily supported by the Broward County School Board and Broward County’s government itself, are doing. And most importantly, I’ve seen how it is being wildly embraced by children in Middle and High Schools from all over Broward County.

What I saw yesterday gave me tremendous hope for our future yet it also frustrated me to think that Miami-Dade, perhaps the most at risk community in North America from the threat of sea level rise, does not have a similar program or such a strong commitment.

500 children packed the Global Events Center in downtown Fort Lauderdale for the day long student Summit and for an hour and a half those children listened to esteemed experts from all over South Florida talk about our climate change crisis and sustainability. People like Dr. Ben Kirtman from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, Carey Stanton from the National Wildlife Federation, Professor Jeff Huber from the School of Architecture at FAU, Jackie Ventura from The Miami Heat, Teresa Frontado from WLRN and Zalalem Adefris, the Resilience Director at Catalyst Miami.  These incredible professionals talked about sustainability, solar and, yes, they shared hard climate science facts with the children.

IMG_0857Let me repeat that.

500 Middle and High School children listened to a panel of adults discuss climate change and sustainability for an hour and a half yesterday.

And what did they do after the panel finished their session? The children came up the microphones and asked question after question. The children craved answers and engagement. Just as I see at every single climate lecture that I give at schools all over South Florida, Broward’s kids understand that we have a problem, they know carbon is killing our atmosphere and oceans and they want to be part of the solution. They simply need a platform to become involved and thankfully Broward’s School Board and County government understand that and how serious this topic truly is to our region’s very future, to their student’s future here in South Florida.

Bravo Broward!

Miami-Dade’s children deserve the same level of commitment from our School Board, Superintendent, County Government and Mayor as children in Broward have. Miami-Dade children deserve better. Our climate change crisis and the resulting sea level rise threat is the most important issue Miami-Dade’s children will face in their lifetimes here in South Florida and the time has come for the adults in charge to understand this and get serious about educating and engaging students.

Allow me to thank some of the incredible people in Broward who played a role in yesterday’s Broward Youth Climate Summit. Thanks to the amazing Dr. Jennifer Jurado, Director & Chief Resilience Officer for the Broward County Environmental Planning and Community Resilience Division, Dr. Carolina Maran, Robert Rudolph, Victor Suarez, Maena Angelotti, Kim Mayo and Scott Lewis. Thanks as well to School Board Member (District 3) Heather Brinkworth, Susan Cantrick, Director of Broward County Public Schools Applied Learning Department, Dr. Lisa Milenkovic, Megan West, Rebecca Malones, Jaime Akkusu, Justin Weaver, Jill Horowitz and Sheryl Arriola. Thank you for allowing me to moderate yesterday’s panel and including me in your inaugural event but mostly thank you for what you are doing to educate and inspire the generations that will need to fully solve our climate crisis. For that, I know I speak for many when I say, I am grateful to each of you and your colleagues.

I’d also like to thank each of the panelists who participated yesterday and gave such meaningful insight to everyone in attendance. Your insights about your professional work much less your educations and all else inspired many yesterday, most certainly me, and for being with us in Broward thank you.

To learn more about the 2019 Broward Youth Climate Summit, its program and the Key Note Speakers who joined me yesterday please click here

The Biggest Challenge Facing the Insurance Industry: “Climate Change”

One of the first interviews that I ever conducted, I guess I was 14 at the time, was with Dr. Ben Kirtman, Professor of Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS). Dr. Kirtman was incredibly gracious with me that day and offered hours of insight, as well as my very first tour of the RSMAS campus on Key Biscayne.

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I vividly remember many things from my visit and time with Dr. Kirtman that day, but two things particularly stood out.

The first was his answer to my question about what he thought would happen to animals in coastal places such as South Florida, Antarctica and elsewhere, as sea levels continued to rise and rise. His response was something to the effect of “well, Delaney, I’m not sure, but I think the polar bears are in trouble.” That answer led to the title of the comic book I wrote a few months later entitled “Where Did All Of The Polar Bears Go?” So props to Dr. Kirtman for planting that particular seed.

The other comment from that day that I have been thinking a lot about this week had to do with his answer about what he believed might ‘force’ the changes that our society will require to get serious about addressing our climate change crisis. He explained that he thought that certain industries such as mortgage lenders and insurance companies might lead the way. Coastal homes or businesses subject to routine flooding and rising seas would become poor risks for mortgage lenders who would fear that a property could be rendered useless, abandoned, and then have their loan defaulted. Insurers would also increasingly be reluctant to insure such locations and stop offering coverage all together at some point rather than pay claims for flood losses was his other thought.

His comment about the insurance industry came to mind again when I read an article this week from Insurance Business Magazine that quoted a New Zealand insurer as believing that our climate change crisis is the biggest challenge the insurance industry faces in its future. Here’s the quote from David Rush, Director of Vision Insurance, that captured my attention:

“The first challenge we face is climate change – dealing with the increasing frequency of natural disasters, and the on flow effects of premium increases and policy restrictions.”

Mr. Rush’s comments are, of course, logical.

More and larger devastating wildfires, as we’ve seen in California and elsewhere around the world as temperatures continue to rise.

More numerous and larger devastating hurricanes, typhoons and tsunamis.

Carbon pollution in our oceans and atmospheres that have grown to historic and alarming levels.

Rising sea levels all over the planet.

Record heat waves and temperatures (with 2018 behind us, consider that four of the hottest last five years on record have just taken place).

Droughts in the American West and elsewhere in North America much less all over the world including in the Holy Lands in Israel and other places in the Middle East.

All sorts of industries are beginning to find the value of becoming sustainable and of offering sustainable products. They are doing this not only to meet increasing consumer demand, but also because it is good business for their bottom line.

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Dr. Kirtman sure was right when he predicted that our climate change crisis would soon capture the attention of industry and that some industries would likely force changes in their business, what they are and are not willing or able to do, in order to address the opportunities and challenges that they face.

To start off 2019 by reading that an insurance executive believes that climate change is the biggest challenge his industry faces is, I am sure, just the start. As the damage from our climate change crisis continues to grow, the impact to people and businesses all over the world will likewise exponentially increase and, thus, the sooner we shift our world economies to sustainable, clean energy solutions, the less costly these impacts will be for all of us.

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