Category Archives: Sea Level Rise

10,800%

Getting 200 of the world’s nations to agree on the steps needed to shift away from mankind’s century-long love affair with fossil fuels to clean, sustainable solutions might be the largest task humanity has ever undertaken together. As hard as I imagine it was to recover from devastating world wars and any number of horrible historic humanitarian crises, these could look small in dollars and the fortitude it will take for the citizens of the world to work together to solve our global climate crisis before it’s too late.

And because of that, the work that the United Nations is doing to address our climate crisis, including the recent Conference of the Parties (COP) in Madrid, is important for many reasons including:

2019 was the year that the University of Oxford’s Oxford University Press named “climate emergency” as its “word” (phrase) of the year after the use of those two words increased 10,800% between September 2018 and September 2019. Five or six years ago when I began my climate change work here at The Sink or Swim Project many people were unaware that earth was warming, much less the key reasons for these changes and their repercussions. As 2020 begins it’s clear that whether from Oxford University, research by Yale University or other sources, people all over the world now know that we have a problem and are increasingly being subject to its impact.

2019 was also the year that the United Nations issued its most recent forecast on earth’s temperatures and whether our society is doing enough, fast enough, to offset the worst impacts of our climate change crisis. In October, 2019 the IPCC illustrated that we are not making the type of progress needed to sufficiently influence future warming including the 2015 Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. You can review that report by clicking here.

Led by the United States in Paris in 2015, the world’s nations, nearly 200 of them, agreed that society must keep global warming under 2 degrees Celsius versus pre-industrial revolution levels and set a goal to work together to keep temperatures from rising no more than 1.5 degrees. The recent United Nations’ report, and the pathetic results from COP 25 in Madrid, again illustrate just how hard it will be to achieve these goals and the importance that the nations of the world have measurable goals and rules needed to attain them if we are to ever solve this crisis.

What was accomplished during two weeks of climate discussions in Madrid?

Not much.

“Once again, no progress has been made to bring countries more in line with the 1.5 degrees target of the Paris Agreement. Very strict rules are an absolute necessity and old untrustworthy CO-2 credits have to be scrapped. That has not happened in Madrid, the summit ended without a deal.”

Bas Eickhout, European Parliament Member

The United States is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world today (and historically has been the largest), yet our current President, calling it a “bad deal,” has announced that our country will withdraw from the Paris Agreement this year. Lacking the United States’ vision, deep engagement and leadership in solving the crisis, the world is a different place today than it was in 2015. Words like “failure” and “disarray” are being used to summarize the outcome in Madrid.

I am disappointed with the results of #COP25. The international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on  mitigation, adaptation & finance to tackle the climate crisis. But we must not give up, and I will not give up.

António Guterres, United Nation’s Chairman, December 15, 2019

And while many of the world’s biggest nations – Australia, Brazil and, sadly, the United States – seem intent on “kicking the can down the road” as they say, doing little or consciously overlooking the issue, the people that I talk to at my lectures and other events are intent on learning, are openly wondering about what will happen, craving leadership and increasingly express being worried. I am worried too and the lack of progress at a global meeting on the climate change crisis that draws nearly 200 nations yet gets little done should concern us all.

Speaking of Oxford as I was, the University wrote in November, 2019 that 70% of British citizens live in areas which have already declared a climate emergency.

70% (!).

In one country.

In 2019.

Keeping in mind that the repercussions from our warming climate have only just begun and are about to get far worse without significant action by you and me and our governments, it is not surprising that a recent poll found that 52% of people in the United Kingdom are “very concerned” about climate change. What’s significant about that poll and figure is that just five years ago only 18% were “very concerned”.

People are listening. Reading. Learning.

Sure, the lack of meaningful action in Madrid is disappointing, but there are encouraging signs all around us that a world-wide movement, one often led by the youngest in society, to address this crisis is not only alive and well but growing. Significantly growing. No matter what you hear from politicians in Washington, San Paolo or other places intent on protecting the polluters, don’t overlook the use of the phrase “climate emergency” increasing by 10,800% in a year’s time or that the number of people in an entire country that call themselves “very concerned” about that very same emergency would triple in five years time.

People are starting to see the effects.

They are starting to widely understand that the world must come together to solve this problem.

And we, and by “we” I mean all of us with voices and votes and currency and feelings the world over, are finally on the verge of demanding that all political and business leaders understand the climate emergency and are focused on fixing it.

No more meetings that do nothing. Otherwise those so called “leaders” will need to understand that we will replace them and/or boycott their products and services in favor of those who are serious about solving the issue and that’s not intended as a threat or “big” talk or what-not.

It’s reality.

It’s what 10,800% tells me.

That percentage and these other figures illustrate that we are leaving an era of early education, one of tolerance, and are now entering an era of action because people increasingly know that the “climate emergency” is upon us and that the time to fix the problem has arrived at the dawn of the new decade that is 2020.

University of Cambridge: A Window Into The Future of Sustainable Commerce

Some recent news from the insurance industry reminded me of a lecture that I gave this year in England at the University of Cambridge to some of the world’s largest businesses: businesses interested in transitioning to a more sustainable future. Their comments after my talk, and especially that night over a memorable dinner in a memorable place led me to sense that these executives and their colleagues are keenly aware that our world is changing and that our future will be one fueled by sustainable energy, not fossil fuels. As the year ends, it’s as good a time as any to set politics aside and consider what real people are doing in real businesses to lay a foundation for our sustainable future.

Liberty Mutual, for example, is one of America’s best known insurance businesses and their announcements this month that they have implemented new positions on both coal industry underwriting and investing, as well as having created their first ever Chief Sustainability Officer, got my attention and were in line with what I heard from many of the executives I visited with in England.

”We are committed to being a responsible global corporate citizen with a focus on environmental sustainability, supporting the transition to a low-carbon economy and investing in companies that show proven progress in this evolution. We understand the shift from coal to clean energy is a journey, and we recognize the role the insurance industry plays in supporting that evolution for our customers. Now more than ever, it’s crucial that companies take an active role in advancing their ESG agendas, and I look forward to partnering with internal and external stakeholders around the world to help drive positive impact in society.”

Frances Hyatt, Chief Sustainability Officer
Liberty Mutual Insurance Company

Ms. Hyatt’s new role is to focus on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues in a world where consumers increasingly demand that those they do business with have a social conscious that includes not supporting fossil fuels such as coal.

Their new approach to underwriting and their investments means the insurer will no longer accept new risks where 25% or more of a business’ sales come from the extraction or production of energy from thermal coal, nor make new investment in businesses that derive more than 25% of their revenue from thermal coal mining or, for that matter, gain more than 25% of their electrical production from thermal coal. The company says it will fully phase out offering coverage or making investments in their current relationships that exceed the same 25% by 2023.

Liberty Mutual is not alone. There is a growing movement within the insurance industry to divest from insuring or inventing in fossil fuel businesses such as coal mines. Following Liberty’s lead, The Hartford Financial Services Group also announced this month that it will stop underwriting any organizations that draw over 25% of its revenue from coal mining.

“The world needs affordable, accessible energy to support global economic progress and, at the same time, action is needed to mitigate the impact such activity has on our climate. Extreme weather affects people’s lives and businesses – and the risks are getting worse. As an insurer and asset manager we recognize the growing cost of this crisis, and we’re determined to use our resources and influence to address the challenge.”

Christopher Swift, Chairman & CEO
The Hartford

According to the organization Unfriend Coal, Liberty Mutual and The Hartford now join 17 other global insurance and reinsurance companies, each a gigantic corporate titan -including Chubb, Swiss Re and Zurich – in implementing a business strategy to begin shifting away from fossil fuel risks and investments and towards sustainability.

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These announcements remind me of my time in England and a keynote lecture that I gave this year at the University of Cambridge in England to open their Global Climate Change and Environmental Risk Financial Reporting Conference at the St. John’s College Judge School of Business. Now, I admit that I don’t know much about finance and accounting (but, then again, who does at age 19?); however, I do know a bit about our global climate crisis and have more than a few opinions on the topic.

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The conference at Cambridge was attended by a “who’s who” of global businesses such as banking giant JP Morgan Chase, international insurer Zurich Insurance and hundreds of others. Some in attendance, such as the Nestle Corporation, have made great strides in embracing sustainability while others, such as BP Oil, openly admitted to having a long way to go yet were upbeat in their desire to change and evolve.

My talk that day focused not only only on my own climate journey and concerns but highlighted a handful of businesses that have embraced sustainability and are headed in the right direction along with why I feel that we not only can but must solve our climate crisis.

Hogwarts Dining Hall

St. John's College Dining Hall

St. John’s College Dining Hall

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After the lecture I was invited to tour the Cambridge campus and later in the day re-joined conference attendees for dinner in the St. John’s College Dinning Hall. I don’t know what J. K. Rowling used as inspiration for the dining hall at Hogwarts in her Harry Potter books, but it would not surprise me if it was St. John’s. Antique and alluring, filled with prodigious paintings, stained glass windows, and voluminous vaulted ceilings St. John’s was most majestic and like the rest of the campus at Cambridge it was a special place indeed.

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But as special as the campus was, the people in attendance were even more impressive. With a day of lectures and work behind them, the conference’s attendees were eager to discuss our climate change crisis with me and to gain the perspective of Generation Z. No sooner than I’d taken my overcoat off and hung it on a heated rack I was bombarded by attendees who wanted to talk about my lecture, what’s happening around the world and share what they are or are not doing to address the issue as good corporate citizens. I spent the next hour or so discussing these topics with four or five adults at a time, all successful people in their fields, and all concerned with whether their businesses were doing enough or fast enough to influence the future.​

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And as fascinated as they seemed to be with me, a real life Gen Z kid deeply concerned about climate change, I found their concerns refreshing. Prior to arriving in England I was not certain what to expect from the conference attendees. Would they diminish my concerns as those of a “kid”? Would they put their short term profits ahead of the dire needs of our society? Would they spew the ridiculous political nonsense that we too often hear in the States from one of our two dominant political parties and its leaders?

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Well, I can tell you that none of that happened. Instead they expressed concern for what is happening to our environment. They touted what their businesses were doing to help change things for the better and some commiserated that they feared that their businesses were not doing enough, or fast enough. They were candid, open, engaging and appreciative. Not condescending like so many divisive political leaders here in the U.S. have become. It was, frankly, refreshing.

And speaking of politics, they think what is happening here in the United States is truly tragic. In fact, our political chaos of the past three years was easily the number one thing they wanted to talk about. In Cambridge, beyond the talking heads on television or talking points from one political organization or another that seem to populate our never ending news cycles, these successful businessmen and women from large corporations all over the world wanted to talk to me, a teen at the time, about American politics. And they were very candid with their views and concerns over what the Trump Administration is doing. They made it very clear that they feel we have a brewing global crisis and that the curent administration in the United States is much further behind the rest of the world when it comes to tackling our most serious environmental issues.

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While enjoying a delicious four course dinner that night at Hogwarts, I mean St. John’s, I was fortunate to sit with four Australian insurance executives. These ladies once again illustrated why I feel that their industry is going to play a signficant role in forging the change we need to solve our climate change crisis.

These ladies agreed that their industry would be at the forefront of demanding change but as experienced as they are with the data and science, they were shocked when I played videos of the flooding that we are routinely experiencing here in South Florida.

Sure, they had read the predictions and heard about the flooding and rising sea levels, but they had never seen it with their own eyes until I played a video I had filmed of the flooding the prior October (which you can watch here). Of course they knew about the coral bleaching that has been destroying their own Ningaloo and Great Barrier Reefs, but to see damage on the other side of the world that threats their own industry came as a shock to them.

And before I end this post, allow me also share that not only did the business people at that conference leave a positive impression on me but the lovely people I met did too. While being a tourist in and around London and Cambridge there were (literally) signs everywhere you looked about all sorts of environmental topics, concerns and movements. It was refreshing. Whether their trash cans adorning “For Fish’s Sake” campaign signs or posters for climate related events, it’s clear that our friends in Great Britan care a great deal about our environment.

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As 2019 and the decade of the 2010’s comes to an end I believe that local and global businesses are finally and increasingly beginning to take our climate crisis more seriously. From my view at the front lines of the climate fight over the past six years, it seems to me that the decade which is about to end has been relatively successful, not so much in solving our climate crisis, but in bringing wide-spread awareness about it to every corner of the globe.

And as a new decade dawns, it’s my hope that our civilization will now transition to implementing sustainable solutions rather than spending more time debating what man has so obviously has done to ourselves and our planet over the past century. That was my take away from Cambridge: that change and solutions are taking root all over the world and that serious business people, not pretend politicians, understand what is at stake and seem interested in being part of the solution.

Here’s to hoping that all of us will make the 2020’s the decade of climate solutions. Happy, Healthy New Year.

Allow me to end by thanking Dr. Alan Jagolinzer, professor at the Judge School of Business, for inviting me to speak, as well as he, the University of Cambridge and Dr. Hui Chen, professor at the University of Zurich, for sponsoring my trip. It was an honor to be with you and your colleagues. 

Can the Florida Keys be Saved from Sea Level Rise?

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After a glorious week here on No Name Key in the beautiful Florida Keys, I’m heading home and wondering whether the key deer and the other inhabitants, animals and humans of Monroe County will be able to live here towards the end of my life.

Much of the Keys sit at, near or even below current sea levels and over the last 10 or so years have increasingly been subjected to extensive flooding that will soon become more and more routine. It’s been well publicized that some communities in Key Largo, for example, have suffered flooding for nearly three months straight. News that the streets and bars in Key West are flooding have become commonplace. And, sadly, the problem is only going to get worse.

As I have noted in previous blogs, scientists predict that the number of “sunny day flooding” events will increase from the current 6 times per year to an estimated 80 times per year by 2030 and to 380 times per year by 2045, thus more than once a day as high and low tides fluctuate twice per day.

“If we asked for what we actually needed, we’d be in the billions of dollars.”
Helene Wetherington, Monroe County Head of Disaster Recovery

It’s no wonder that the leaders of Monroe County have asked the State of Florida Department of Economic Opportunity for 150 million dollars to begin to address the problem: money that would be used to start to raise all sorts of things, such as roads. And while 150 million dollars sounds like an enormous sum of money, mitigating the problem will likely cost “billions” so says Helene Wetherington the Head of Disaster Recovery for Monroe County. You can read about Monroe County’s request and their perspective on this growing problem by clicking here.

And while I am headed back to Miami to finish this semester’s exams, I can’t help but wonder why Florida’s leaders or, for that matter, America’s are not doing more to rid our society of the fossil fuels that are contributing to so much of our climate crisis. Whether it’s hundreds of millions, billions or even trillions of dollars that must be spent to try and save some semblance of our current way of life here in South Florida, it would be so much less expensive if we would just get serious about solving the core problem before it’s too late.

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