Category Archives: University of Miami

Summer Time 2022

I’ve just finished my first year of graduate school, in this case my first year of law school in a dual degree program at the Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy here at the University of Miami where, in the years to come, I hope to earn both my law degree as well as a Ph.D. The last year has been incredibly interesting, fascinating really, but everything you’ve heard about the first year of law school being rigorous is, well, true. Reading hundreds and hundreds of pages of cases and related work every day has led to countless late nights and more than a few occasions where I found myself having fallen asleep on my books, but I’d not trade it for anything in the world. I’ve learned a great deal, made some incredible new friends, and been inspired by my professors.

I’ve also been honored to be selected to join the Law School’s Environmental Law Clinic; organized a wonderfully received symposium on campus related to the Juliana v. United States climate lawsuit and Florida Rule setting goals for 100% renewable energy by 2050 that was led by my friend and Senior Litigation Attorney Andrea Rogers from Our Children’s Trust, who visited from Eugene Oregon; and to top things off no sooner than the school year ended, I learned that I’ve been chosen to attend the Conference of the Parties (COP) 27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt this coming November. Thanks so very much to Dr. Jessica Owley and Professor Abigail Fleming for your friendship, inspiration, and dedication to the law, our environment, and, well, me. I am grateful.

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With the arrival of a much needed summer break I have spent the last month away from the law library, books, and computer as much as possible while traveling to some of North America’s truly beautiful places. The start of the summer saw me travel to upstate New York to visit my brother at Cornell University and while there check out the gorgeous nature that surrounds Ithaca, including some of the tallest waterfalls I’ve ever seen. When I typically think of New York I think of New York City, a place where I’ve met some incredible people and done important work over the years, but I am here to say that upstate New York is stunningly beautiful.

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After a quick stop in NYC my next stop was a visit to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia where I drove the 105-mile-long Skyline Drive, hiked on the Appalachian Trail, stayed at the nearly 100-year-old Skyland Lodge, and explored the mysterious Stony Man trail amidst some of the most fabulous rock formations, while being followed for several minutes by the largest deer I’ve ever met. Shenandoah is simply breathtaking, a treasure for sure and my visit there allowed me to check off having visited my 11th of America’s 63 National Parks (one of my life goals is to visit all 63).

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And speaking of National Parks, my next trip was to Congaree National Park in South Carolina, a stop that allowed me to check off number 12 on that loft list of 63 National Parks. Talk about a great way to start my summer! Congaree was once owned by a Chicago logging company and as you kayak through the park’s South Cedar Creek River, as I did early one morning, or hike the Boardwalk trail, as I did one afternoon, you can understand why that would have been the case. The Cyprus, Tupelo, and Loblolly Pine Trees that the park is well known for tower one to nearly two hundred of feet above the forest floor.

The park is a fascinating place for many reasons including the fact that it floods by as much as 12 feet several times during the year and thus much of the habitat is a dense, near swamp like, environment filled with mystery. 1989’s Hurricane Hugo, then the largest natural disaster to hit North America, did an estimated $4 billion in damage in the region and while it thankfully missed most of Charleston to the South, much of the dead remains of its damage can be found in Congaree as once majestic gigantic trees killed by that storm lay decaying amongst their cemetery of the forest floor. Seeing those trees ominously silent in their final resting place three decades after that storm led me to think about the increasing number of devastating hurricanes you and I will face from our global climate change crisis that is warming earth and makes me wonder what special place will next suffer the fate so many in Congaree did in 1989.​

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A few days after my time in South Carolina I enjoyed my first visit to the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. Pisgah is comprised of over 500,000 acres and is the home to America’s first School of Forestry, a site I visited while there that includes a wonderful exhibit hall with a large section related to our climate crisis. While there I also enjoyed hiking on a part of the Appalachian Trail, a horseback ride through the mountains, a picnic along the South Mills River next to a rushing waterfall, and exploring the highest elevations of the Blue Ridge Parkway where the views of the surrounding mountains were nothing less than stunning. If you love the pink blooms of wild mountain laurel and endless mountain views in every direction, then the ridges along the top of the Pisgah are for you.

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As I write this I am back home on my beloved No Name Key here in the Florida Keys. Like much of North America, the summer temperatures here are high (as are the high tides) but the water over the past week has been glass calm while the Royal Poinciana trees in our yard are in full bloom in a blaze of orange that fills their canopies. Now that I have returned to South Florida I am back to work on a range of important topics including research with my friends at Field School (www.getintothefield.com), progressing my research for my Ph.D., working on the implementation of the energy rules that will allow Florida’s power system to transition to sustainable energy by 2050 and, of course, The Sink or Swim Project’s many initiatives. My studies in recent months, along with the Florida Petition of Rulemaking, kept my schedule full but with the school year behind me I am excited about a summer of work that’s filled with promise and progress including my hope to be able to post more often than was possible during the school year.

I’ve shared some of my early summer adventures with you in hopes that you, too, will get out and enjoy our incredible natural environment. Here’s to hoping you can spend a lazy day floating down a cool river, take a hike off into the woods on an adventurous trail, snorkel amongst a sea of fish friends, enjoy an evening filled with the “fireworks” that only fireflies can provide, or something equally amazing. Our natural environment is endlessly filled with wonder that soothes the soul and is most certainly worth enjoying and protecting forever more, so here’s to you having a fantastic summer and getting outdoors.

It’s All About The U

It’s All About The U
Again & Again

When I decided to apply to the University of Miami as an Early Decision applicant, I just knew in my heart that the “U” and studying here in South Florida was the right decision and place for me. After four years, a Bachelor’s in Science and double-majoring in Marine Science and Coastal Geology, in addition to earning my minor in Climate Policy through the Rosensteil School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, I can happily share that my intuition was right: the University of Miami and staying here in my beloved South Florida was the perfect place for me.

Over the summer, some of you have kindly asked me “what’s next?” and before I share that news with you, allow me to thank a few incredibly special, supportive, and inspirational people in and out of the classroom over these four years while a Miami Hurricane.

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I’d be remiss to not thank the University and everyone involved in honoring me with a Foote Fellowship, as well as a Singer Scholarship, and along the way allowing me to participate in all sorts of campus organizations including and even being named recipient of the Roberta “Bosey” Fulbright Foote Prize last year by President Frenk. Allow me to give a special shout out to Dr. Jim Klaus for being my trusty advisor and who helped me resurrect the Geology Honor Society (Sigma Gamma Epsilon), Teddy L’houtellier for his amazing support of my roles within the Student Government ECO Board and Green Committee, plus my passion to see solar all over campus.

So what’s next?

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Well, I am humbly proud to share that I’ve been accepted into the dual degree program here at the University of Miami’s Abbess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy where over the next several years I will have the incredible opportunity to earn both Juris Doctorate and a Ph.D. while being able to work on a range of environmental issues and causes that are deeply important to me. As part of my acceptance and scholarship I will also have the opportunity to act as a Teaching Assistant, in addition to having the ability to continue to purse my passion for protecting our fragile environment from a range of threats whether they be sea level rise, oil drilling or increasing temperatures.

As I head off on this new academic adventure allow me to thank (Kenny Broad, Catherine Macdonald, Harold Wanless, Gina Maranto, Joseph Matthews, Katrin Schroll, Jessica Owley, and Abigail Fleming) for their kind support of my graduate school application, as well as my passion to explore and protect our environment. I am forever grateful.

Having followed in the footsteps of my grandfather, father, and mother (all Miami graduates) I’ve always been enormously proud of my heritage as a Miami Hurricane, but the idea that one day soon I will be a three-time graduate is, admittedly, pretty incredible. The University of Miami has always been ever so supportive of my educational and environmental dreams in ways that I will likely never be able to repay but will certainly never, ever forget.

My graduate school adventure starts with a requirement that I complete my first year of law school over the next 12 months. I’ve never, of course, attended law school but am consistently told that the first year requires an enormous amount of time and dedication (along with at least a few tears!). With that commitment in mind, I am not yet certain about how much time I will truly be able to dedicate to The Sink or Swim Project in the near term but will, as always, do my very best to stay active and engaged in fighting for what’s important.

I can say, however, that I am excited to put in the hard work that graduate school deserves and to gain the knowledge it portrays so as to allow me to spend the rest of my life pursing my passions in the field as a scientist, in the halls of justice as a lawyer, and, with any luck, inspiring and teaching future generations of thought leaders and agents of change as an educator.

As a graduate, much less now a grad student, making a difference in our world and giving back to our society is what being a Miami Hurricane truly means to me. As I’ve said before, for me it’s All About The U and as I step off on this next grand educational adventure I want to thank my entire Miami Hurricane family, friends, mentors, and colleagues for your never ending support.

Insurers Increasingly Focus On Climate Change Risks

I learned about my now good friend, the esteemed climate scientist Dr. Ben Kirtman here at the University of Miami, by reading his work within the IPCC Report when I was 13. In the years since he’s been someone that I’ve greatly admired and look up to but he’s also just about the nicest person you can imagine.

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So nice, in fact, that he was kind enough to meet with me all of those years ago as I was just starting The Sink or Swim Project and boy was my time with him that day impactful. I don’t know if he knows this or not but Ben was the first person I ever interviewed about climate change (talk about starting in the deep end of the pool with one of the world’s top scientific minds!). And, true to form, upon hearing that I’d never been on campus at the Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Sciences, the place where I will soon graduate, he insisted he give me a tour of the place. For a little girl who was in love with marine science and already dreaming of attending the very school he worked at it was pretty tall cotton as they say, and all these years later I am as appreciative today to him as I was that first afternoon we met.

Now I will also share with you that during our time together that day we covered a lot of important topics. Ben’s insights certainly confirmed my interest in working on our climate crisis much less the plight places like South Florida face as rising seas threaten their very existence. When, for example, we talked about the threat that rising seas present to animals Ben responded by saying “Although I am not a biologist I am pretty sure that the polar bears are in trouble”. His answer sparked an idea that I then turned into a comic book, Where Will All The Polar Bears Go?, that I  wrote, illustrated, and have shared with tens of thousands of children during my public lectures in the years since.

Ben and I also talked about the challenges those who are so deeply concerned about our warming climate often face by others who are either unaware of the issue or somehow dismiss it. In explaining what could be done about folks who overlook or deny the issue and how we go about changing that before places people love, say the Everglades or Florida Keys, are lost forever, Ben said something I’ve never forgotten. When I asked him what he felt it would take to be or become the tipping point that would lead to widespread and aggressive action he explained that he felt that insurance companies and lenders would one day force solutions or would simply no longer offer some consumers coverage on their homes and businesses or, for that matter, a mortgage loan.

Of course, that made total sense. Insurers typically write a policy that’s six or 12 months in duration but when the time comes, and without serious action on our part that time will certainly come, they will stop writing coverage on a risk that’s sure to present them a claim. Mortgage lenders likely have an even greater risk since most home loans last 15 to 30 years. The lender today that is not paying close attention to the risk from flooding in a place like South Florida is the lender that will hold a mortgage on a home or business that’s under water in the decades to come.

And so with Ben’s insight all of those years ago in mind the article that follows caught my attention. The following is from an industry trade periodical called the Insurance Journal and as you will see it outlines a recent publication, the Climate Change Risk Assessment Report by the Geneva Association Task Force. The report considers a variety of risks related to climate change including the need to formally factor those risks into their predictive modeling, underwriting and strategic business decisions.

Ben was, of course, right. The day will soon come when insurers (and lenders too, you can be certain) take our climate change crisis into consideration when it comes to offering insurance or the price they charge.

In fact, based on the group of insurers on the task force, a who’s who of giant global insurers, I’d say the day, just as Ben so correctly predicted would happen, has already arrived. Now the question is what will our society do to not only mitigate the problem but actually address it’s foundational cause,fossil fuel production and use?

Insurance climate change task force warns of short, long-term risks: report

By Rebecca Gainsburg, Advisen

The insurance industry has taken promising first steps to understand climate change risk through decades of natural catastrophe modeling, analysis and pricing, but uncertainty surrounding future changes to public policy, litigation, technology and human behavior calls for a more holistic approach.

Insurance experts from 17 of the world’s largest property/casualty and life insurers joined forces to launch the Geneva Association Task Force and proactively publish a climate change risk assessment report in February.

“Insurers are obvious, strong leaders on global climate action, given their core functions – managing risk and investing – and our industry-led initiative demonstrates that they are proactively rising to the occasion,” said Jad Ariss, managing director for the Geneva Association.

By factoring climate change risk into underwriting decisions and choosing investment strategies that support climate change mitigation, insurers and reinsurers already contribute to the low-carbon economy transition. However, many difficult decisions still lie ahead regarding physical and transition risk in both the short- and long-term.

Physical risks from wildfires, droughts, and other extreme weather events will likely be similar in the next 10 years to what they are today. In the longer term (2030 to 2050), the Geneva Association said it anticipates an increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events and more significant consequences from rising sea levels, including prolonged heat waves and droughts, increased flooding of coastal areas, the spread of disease, and other geopolitical consequences.

Transition risks include societal and public policy efforts to mitigate climate change. They may result in increased climate change litigation, changes to the transportation and energy sectors, and an increasingly volatile valuation of assets in carbon-intensive sectors in the short-term. Long-term transition risks will largely depend on how much action is taken in the short-term, and the interconnection between transition and physical risks shouldn’t be ignored. 

“If society is able to accelerate the transition by taking actions to reduce carbon emissions and thereby global warming, it may reduce the extent to which acute and chronic physical risks materialize. Conversely, an absence of action by society is likely to lead to more severe global warming and physical risks,” the Geneva Association said in its report.

Developing the proper methodologies and tools to properly understand, mitigate, and underwrite climate change risk takes time and reaching a consensus is often difficult, but collaboration between insurers, scientific communities and other experts could speed the process.

Currently, the goal is to boost “awareness of the risk, the importance of investing in developing assessment capabilities and experimenting with different approaches and engaging in dialogue to promote cross-learning,” according to the report.

“This initiative is taking the insurance industry’s climate action and collaboration to the next level. Building on lessons learned from previous pilots and initiatives, our task force is focused on advancing climate risk assessment and scenario analysis anchored in companies’ decision-making,” said Maryam Golnaraghi, the association’s director of climate change and emerging environmental topics.

Members of the task force include Achmea, Aegon, AIG, Allianz, Aviva, AXA, Chubb, Daichi Life, Hannover Re, Intact Financial, Manulife, MetLife, Munich Re, Prudential Financial, SCOR, Swiss Re, and Tokio Marine.

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