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Climate Change, Class Divide PDF Print E-mail
Written by Blanca Mesa, BT Contributor   
May 2017

Preparedness resources just don’t make it to poorer neighborhoods

TPix_GoingGreen_5-17he yoga people stretch en masse at the far end of Museum Park, while other visitors lounge alone under the coconut palms, staring out to sea. In the evening afterglow, Biscayne Bay glistens gold. The luxury condos that ring the downtown skyline in a crescent of glass affirm that this city has arrived.

At such a Miami moment, who could possibly consider a watery apocalypse in our future?

The people on the Miami Science Barge at Museum Park could.

At the recent Community Justice Project event, a “Salon Juste” evening talk and discussion, the topic is climate change and environmental justice in Miami, and the picture isn’t pretty.

“My 60 to 70 years on the planet might be the best that any human will experience,” says moderator Caroline Lewis, executive director of the CLEO Institute, a Pinecrest-based climate change education group. “And it pisses me off that I’m leaving the planet worse off for my daughters.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projects new upper limits of eight feet for sea level rise by 2100. This is a catastrophic level for the world’s coastal communities. In South Florida, six to eight inches of higher sea level, which could happen within decades, will cause saltwater intrusion into our water supplies and wreak havoc with our sewage and drainage systems.

The “Salon Juste” discussion is taking place on the Science Barge, a floating marine lab dedicated to promoting sustainability and environmental education. The barge has 48 solar panels and awnings that collect rain to water the hydroponic gardens. The repurposed boat is now part of the Philip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science, and hosts family-friendly “Science Saturdays” and monthly wine-infused “Sip of Science” lectures.

Within the context of climate justice issues, however, the novelty of a sustainable barge is part of a “climate bubble,” far from the messy, painful impacts climate change will have on the daily lives of Miami’s marginalized communities.

“Poor people of color are not being brought into the conversation,” says Valencia Gunder, South Florida lead organizer with the New Florida Majority, which works to empower Miami’s historically disenfranchised populations. The biggest fear is a Katrina-type storm that upends neighborhoods for months, leaving residents stranded in flooded communities without power and under life-threatening conditions.

“The resources just don’t look the same in Liberty City as they do on Miami Beach,” said Gunder. Some examples include: immigrants fearful of asking for help for fear of being targeted for deportation, young pregnant mothers who cannot access healthcare providers, or the inability of those with limited incomes to stock up on storm supplies.

In Miami-Dade, 21 percent of households live below the federal poverty rate, according to a recent United Way report. Another 37 percent earn below the minimum needed to pay for basic necessities: housing, childcare, healthcare, and transportation.

“Women of color need to be part of the conversation on sea level rise,” adds Gunder, saying that they must demand the resources needed as resilience and adaptation measures are considered. On the sustainability wish list: more shade trees, community gardens, free solar panels and weatherizing for homes, subsidies for purchasing storm supplies and making after-storm repairs.

“We want Miami to be a space where everyone is okay,” she says. “Until all of us are resilient -- none of us are resilient.”

At a recent “Sip of Science” lecture, Dr. Keren Bolter, a climate, policy, and geospatial analyst with the South Florida Planning Council, discusses sea level rise and climate equity in South Florida, and the news is no better. The water is coming for us. Even forward-thinking cities like Miami Beach, which is planning to spend $400 million for climate-ready solutions like elevated roadways and water pumps, aren’t immune.

Water isn’t the only problem. Saltwater intrusion, habitat loss, beach erosion, and wine shortages are in the mix. Yes, wine makes the list, as grapes are an indicator crop, says Bolter.

As bad as that sounds, it will be worse for some. Bolter’s studies have tracked down the most likely places to flood, and then superimposed the poverty rate. Residents of a trailer park in North Miami that experience two feet of flooding, for example, see their septic tank overflow, creating a filthy stench around their homes.

Years of neglect, poorly maintained roads, corroding pipes, and crumbling infrastructure in poorer neighborhoods are made infinitely worse by climate change, Bolter warns. Not to mention the toll on mental health, injuries, and mosquito-borne illnesses like Zika.

Unlike Miami Beach, with its rich tax base and world-class cachet, poorer municipalities don’t have the funds for pumping systems or new sewer lines. Even new construction may not be climate-ready.

“I’m worried things are being built now that could have been built better,” Bolter says. “I don’t mean to end on a negative note -- but it sucks.”

For some, apparently, more than others.

 

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