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Written by John Ise, BT Contributor   
July 2017

The issue of climate change gets personal

Tbigstock--136169594ake the human body. If your temperature rises 2°C, you have a significant fever. If it rises 4°C or 6°C, you can die. It’s not a linear change. You’re pushing a complex system outside the range it’s adapted to. And once you do that, the system’s resilience gets stretched thin.”

This analogy was offered a few years ago by Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, founder of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, to explain how even a small rise in global temperatures can have unpredictable effects across Earth’s many ecosystems.

Projected global warming over the next century? Something like 4.9°C, according to Ezra Klein, editor-in-chief of Vox Media, who acknowledges that actual temps could be far worse.

Following the news about climate change in South Florida is akin to watching the proverbial frog die in water brought to a slow boil. The news is bleak. Take your pick, from Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord and the emergence of a massive crack in the Antarctica ice shelf to Gov. Rick Scott’s staff prohibition on the very term “climate change” and the odds that parts of Shorecrest will be abandoned as sea levels rise.

The issue came into keen focus for me in late May, while I was chaperoning a Girl Scout campout in a local church courtyard. The heat and humidity were merciless as temperatures approached the mid-90s during the day and barely budged at nightfall. I crawled into a coffin-like tent that trapped an additional ten degrees and felt an almost suffocating sensation.

I lay there soaked in my own sweat as a battery-powered fan blew hot, stale air at me like dragon’s breath. I fantasized about my air-conditioned bedroom mere blocks away. And it dawned on me that a slight rise in temperature reduces South Florida’s already short camping season from six months to three or four.

South Miami Mayor (and FIU biologist) Phillip Stoddard has said that climate change is the existential threat to South Florida’s future. And yet there are too many people, even in South Florida, whose profit or ideological motives conflict with the broadly held scientific consensus. As author Upton Sinclair stated, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

And then there are those like me who bitch and moan about the slow-motion local disaster of global warming, about Miami’s swamped future. Fortunately, the greater Miami Shores area has numerous people who embody the “think globally, act locally” ethos. These determined, optimistic activists puncture my whiny piss-cloud and provide a ray of hope.

Biscayne Park’s Melanie Oliva uses her skills to raise environmental awareness while creating art. After spending 16 years in marketing in Chicago, selling “sugary junk to kids,” Oliva decided to use her artworks to make a difference when she relocated to South Florida. Along with other locals, she founded The Artful Activist, a collective of people who fuse artwork and direct action marches for a better tomorrow.

She also convened the local Inspiration Pollination, whose mission is more narrowly focused on saving pollinators (butterflies, bees, moths, etc.) by educating the public about their rapidly decreasing numbers, primarily via social media.

Once the word “butterfly” or “pollinator” comes up in Miami Shores, the name Mary Benton is soon to follow. Benton, a four-year Shores resident after a lifetime of globetrotting, founded Bound by Beauty (boundbybeauty.org), whose mission is “transform how we interact with nature to create a healthier, stronger, and more beautiful and resilient community, using butterflies as a catalyst for change.”

Bound by Beauty has created butterfly habitats at three area schools and more than two dozen private residences, along with an emerging community butterfly/meditation garden at Miami Shores Community Church. Benton’s goal is not merely to protect and proliferate pollinators in the Shores, but to link people to the natural environment so they feel connected and empowered to take on more global issues, like preserving our habitat, putting an end to chemical pollutants, and helping to slow climate change.

Benton says that as people become involved in her efforts, they come to see the beauty and fragility of butterflies as an analogy for caretaking the broader natural and fragile world. Once they begin caring for butterflies, they start to make connections between the welfare of butterflies and the climate -- and our addiction to butterfly-killing pesticides/herbicides that we dump on our lawns to keep them in an unnaturally “perfect” state.

Benton, ever ambitious, seeks to have Miami Shores designated as the Village of Butterflies, with the Village eliminating pesticide use in parks and on medians.

But in the end, if we don’t reduce our carbon footprint, all else comes to naught. The standard recommendations to reduce our carbon footprint center on the mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle, refuse.” Insulate your home, switch to energy-efficient technology, live more simply with less, take the bus once in a while, and eat more veggies (your mother and Mother Earth were right). However, for the truly green, the ultimate goal of switching to solar power has remained an expensive, out-of-reach aspiration.

Fortunately, the Florida League of Women Voters and the newly formed Florida Solar United Neighborhoods (FL SUN, flsun.org) is scheduled to unveil a local solar co-op for the Miami Shores area in September. Should 30 or more homeowners agree to purchase and install solar panels on their roofs, the co-op, leveraging the economics of bulk purchasing, can save them upwards of 20 percent of the original cost.

Coupled with a 30 percent federal tax credit, suddenly the switch to solar makes more sense to your wallet. Jody Finver, Miami-Dade coordinator with FL SUN, shared that the FPL bill for her already energy-efficient house went from over $100 per month to less than $10 per month after she installed solar panels.

Miami Shores, Biscayne Park, El Portal, and other municipalities can get in on the game as well. Miami Shores is part of the Southeast Regional Compact on Climate Change and, along with Miami-Dade, is considering voluntarily adhering to the goals of the Paris Accords. Additionally, local governments can nudge solar along by waiving solar permitting fees. Anything and everything that brings down the cost of doing good by our environment merits pursuit.

Returning to Schellnhuber’s analogy of the natural world as an extension of our biological makeup, we can begin to connect with the deeper importance. “The environment is in us, not outside of us,” the actor Ian Somerhalder has said. “The trees are our lungs, the rivers our bloodstream. We are all interconnected, and what you do to the environment ultimately you do to yourself.”

 

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