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

Governor Reality? Let The Sunshine In

“Our economic potential will be jeopardized if we do not solve the problems afflicting our environment and water resources”

– Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis

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Congrats to Florida’s new Governor Ron DeSantis who was installed last Thursday as Florida’s 46th Governor. Thanks are in order to Governor DeSantis for quickly giving those of us who have been desperate for environmental leadership here in the Sunshine State following eight bleak, dark, years during your predecessor’s two terms some rays of, well, sunshine over the first few days of your Administration. I look forward to working with you, the Department of Environmental Regulation and other Florida leaders to protect our state’s future.

We have so much work to do to catch up on to protect and save Florida that I am hesitant to show too much optimism, eight years of Rick Scott will suppress anyone’s hope for solutions, but the news in the first few days of the DeSantis Governorship hold positive promise and include:

1. The appointment of a Florida “Chief Science” Officer. The fact that you understand the value of science and research is, on its own, a tremendous step in the right direction and a dramatic difference as compared to your predecessor. Thank you.

2. The creation of the Office of Environmental Accountability and Transparency to coordinate science and data with the state government’s various departments and agencies is also welcomed news. Using the words accountability and transparency with the word environmental here in Florida are almost impossible to believe after the past eight years. Bravo.

3. Your Executive Order is about as important a change in direction towards protecting Florida as anyone could hope for. It seeks a whopping $ 2.5 Billion for Everglades restoration, a task force to address toxic algae and directs the South Florida Management District to begin fixing Lake Okeechobee (and in a separate, but surely related, step late last week the Governor requested that the entire Board of the South Florida Water Management District resign so as to ‘clean house’ and seemingly pave the way to clean the Everglades and Lake in the process). Wow.

Your Order also makes clear your opposition to oil and gas exploration, including fracking, along Florida’s coasts. Floridians, I am certain, appreciate your position but also how strongly you expressed your view by stating that Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection shall “adamantly oppose all off-shore oil and gas activities off every coast in Florida and hydraulic fracturing in Florida”. Floridians of every political party celebrate your position on this important topic and especially appreciate the word “adamantly”, something we all agree upon and a position that would seem to even challenge your number one supporter during last year’s campaign, President Trump.

And yes, within that same Executive Order we find your direction that Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection create the Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection. As your Order stated, the purpose of this new Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection is to “help prepare Florida’s coastal communities and habitats for impacts from sea level rise by providing funding, technical assistance and coordination among state, regional and local entities”.

Wait.

What?

Did Florida’s new Republican Governor use the three words “sea”, “level” and “rise” together? That alone is a dramatic step forward and I for one am sincerely grateful that Governor DeSantis appears to arrive in office carrying a dose of reality that our state can’t survive unless we address climate change. It’s possible that the fact that we don’t have a day to wait to begin solving our climate change crisis and within it the threat to Florida’s very future, certainly that of South Florida, from sea level rise has begun to sink in.

His name might be Ron, but perhaps in time he will become known as Governor Reality and show what I have long thought, that Florida can have a robust economic future while addressing the causes and impacts of climate change. The Governor might not want to publicly debate or dissect man’s impact in causing this crisis but, as long as he sets in motion policies, processes and funding to allow Florida to begin solving its share of the problem and to mitigate its impact as much as possible, then that might just work. It sure is a start. And speaking of work, and a start, how about we work to make Florida a global leader in the production of solar panels and technology? How about we work together to see solar power installed everywhere and in doing so create new businesses and great paying jobs all over Florida so that The Sunshine State can become The Solar State?

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Okay, enough “hopeful” talking from a kid for now. Now “let’s get to work” on protecting Florida and trying to save South Florida in particular from the threat from sea level rise. With a new year, Governor and direction upon us let’s embrace what these initial steps suggest might be achievable; that we set politics aside as absolutely much as possible and focus on the science and solving our significant environmental problems.

You can read more about Governor DeSantis new policies and how both esteemed writer Carl Hiaasen and the Miami Heralds Editorial Board  by clicking here and here. You can read Governor DeSantis Executive Order by clicking here.

Solar & Sustainability Lip Service?

I think solar panels are beautiful, and I am not just talking about the fact that they can help us shift from fossil fuel energy to a clean sustainable solution. I think they are beautiful to look at too, but some leaders in the City of Coral Gables appear to think otherwise and on Tuesday will consider legislation to essentially prohibit them being placed on the street side of one’s house in the so called “City Beautiful”.

In fact, Coral Gables wants to place their view of what looks acceptable, thus aesthetics, ahead of allowing a property owner to benefit from solar, ahead of placing one’s solar panels in the best possible location to capture the sun if that means they can be seen from the street, and such a limitation is short sighted if you truly want to help lead the way in solving our climate change crisis.

Much of the proposed law begins with a fight that Gables resident Daniel Martinez and his family, who have been battling the City over where he’s allowed to place his panels on his roof. Not only did the City tell Mr. Martinez that his family could not place panels on the part of his roof facing the street but we’ve now learned that the City, while pretending to be supportive of solar and sustainability, has made decisions that led to at least 30 other homeowners to abandon their solar permit plans for seemingly similar subjective reasons.

I am incredibly disappointed in the City of Coral Gables’ Mayor and Commission for the roadblocks you have allowed residents to be subjected to, as well as for allowing the proposed limitation to be in your 2019 Legislative Priorities. You can read about what’s happening in the City of Coral Gables here:  https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/environment/article223187560.html.

And, on this Tuesday the City will consider passing legislation that says they “support” Florida’s Solar Rights Act, but goes on to say that they oppose any law that would inhibit the Gables’ “ability to regulate aesthetics as it pertains to the installation of solar panels“. Should Coral Gables pass that law they will have shown their true colors and make clear that they are in favor of solar but only if they subjectively like the way it looks and have a say over where panels should be placed no matter what the sun and physics deem best.

Here is a summary of the city of Coral Gables’ ridiculous Legislative Priorities Memo and their Legislative Priorities Resolution highlighting their true view related to solar power (I have marked the key wording in red):

SOLAR

Support the rights afforded under the Florida Solar Rights Act (Section 163.04, Florida Statutes). 

Oppose legislation that would limit the City’s ability to regulate aesthetics as it pertains to the installation of solar panels.   

  WHEREAS, The City of Coral Gables supports the rights afforded under the Florida Solar Rights Act (Section 163.04, Florida Statutes), but would oppose legislation that would limit the City’s ability to regulate aesthetics as it pertains to the installation of solar panels;

On Tuesday night the City of Coral Gables Commission gets a chance to redeem itself and decide whether it’s truly serious about sustainability and doing its part to solve our climate change crisis or, as resident Katherine Newman wrote in the January 6th, 2019 Miami Herald, just giving “lip service” to being “green”. Here’s what Ms. Newman wrote:

GABLES’ LIP SERVICE

The Dec. 26 article “Rooftop solar panel rules frustrate homeowner,” is exactly what most of us in Coral Gables expect: A long, expensive, frustrating process to get any permit (which is why many residents do work without permits).

Coral Gables gives being “green” a lot of lip service, but it does not put our money where its mouth is. Overdevelopment, with massive high rises reaching to the edge of our main streets, is one example. The traffic already is unbearable. What will it be like when the 60-story behemoth on U.S. 1 is finished? The CO2 emissions from all the cars will continue to increase.

In Gables by the Sea, we have been begging for shade trees for 25 years and have been largely ignored. The EPA says that urban “heat islands” contribute to climate change. On our two main streets, the temperature gets to 119 degrees on hot, sunny days because there is no shade. We pay enormous amounts of property taxes and have been unable to get desperately needed shade trees.

We are not fooled by the green talk. Coral Gables needs to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes to pay the unfunded pension deficit. Enormous commercial buildings that contribute to traffic and take away green space will hurt our environment, but will create tax revenue. A homeowner, trying to do the right thing and install solar energy, is irrelevant to the city.

– Katherine Newman, Coral Gables

Saying you are dedicated to helping solve the biggest challenge that kids in my generation will face during our lifetimes often makes adults feel good, but actually putting your money, or your vote, where your mouth and heart is, is another thing all-together. Tuesday night the City can show all of South Florida, and the world, whether it’s either serious or not.

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