Aspen Ideas conference will make Miami Beach the center of the global-warming world

Flooding, extreme temperatures, and sea-level rise are all global-warming consequences experienced in Florida. Many organizations across the state and the country are working to find ways to mitigate climate change. The Aspen Institute is organizing a meeting of the minds in America’s climate crisis ground zero: Miami Beach.

The “Aspen Ideas: Climate” conference makes South Florida the center of climate action from March 3 to 7. Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber made the announcement recently, calling the fight against climate change one of the greatest global challenges.

“We are proud to announce today that in the first week of March of next year, our community is going to be the center of climate action in the world,” he said. “It is really going to be something incredible. Not just because it allows our community, which by the way is at the forefront of this great challenge, but it is the perfect place — because we also happen to be the greatest hospitality center in the world — to talk about these issues in a way that brings all the parties to the table.”

Yoca Arditi-Rocha is the executive director of The CLEO Institute, a non-profit organization that focuses on educating and empowering communities to demand climate action. She says she is excited to welcome the “Aspen Ideas: Climate” conference to South Florida.

“I think it’s an exciting opportunity to have this meeting of the minds, if you will, that will come to the epicenter or the ground zero, to try and to look for solutions, not only for Miami and South Florida but for the rest of the world,” she said.

Arditi-Rocha says that South Florida is already very vulnerable to the effects of climate change due to the state’s low elevation. She added that the warming planet and sea-level rise are already contributing to our water supply and agriculture issues.

“I think it’s important to also know that [climate change] is affecting Miamians. We have been seeing an increased number of days with above 90-degree weather that poses a huge issue for urban environments,” she said. “Particularly people that are already vulnerable: the elderly, children, or people that live in higher polluted areas.”

She says that South Florida is really the poster child for this issue due to problems with chronic flooding.

Arditi-Rocha says that she believes the climate crisis deserves a more intentional approach from all of us. “I think talking about it, and getting civically engaged are the two most important things that we could be doing,” she said.

Mayor Gelber says Miami Beach is already working on solutions to reduce the effects of climate change.

“We’re actually creating pumps all over the city to move water that’s cooling and flooding out,” he said. “We’re also raising our streets in areas where they need to be raised pursuant to the scientifically based standards and projections.”

Gelber says they are building more than 80 pumps around the city and raising streets in areas with the most acute flooding. They’ve already created pumps in areas like Sunset Harbor, West Avenue, South Beach, and the Miami Beach Convention Center.

“Everywhere we have done that we have been successful in stopping the flooding. That tells you that our hardware system is a good solution, a good remediation,” he said. “We’re also changing our zoning codes so that people who build now build a little higher than they used to. So we’re trying very hard to address that.”

Greg Gershuny is the Executive Director of the Aspen Institute’s Energy and Environment program. He says that the organization has been thinking of doing something like this conference for a while. The decision to conduct the conference here, he says, came after analyzing the effects of climate change in the area and the potential South Florida has to help reduce emissions through solar power, Evie chargers, and creating more transit.

“It seemed like the perfect place to bring this event to talk about these issues, and then work with the community afterward and in between. We want this to be an ongoing annual event on building these solutions into the community,” he said. ”So that the people in Miami-Dade County can be more resilient to climate change. And then take those lessons and share them globally to other cities that are also facing similar things.”

Gershuny says the organization has initiated the conversation with local climate action organizations to get involved with the conference, claiming that there will definitely be a very South Florida, Miami Dade County flavor to the event’s design and planning.

The event will feature panel conversations, breakout and roundtable sessions, tours of local and historic resilience points of interest, as well as fashion, food, art, and music activities.

The Aspen Institute will also be hosting its second Future Leaders Summit during the conference. They will be selecting 100 people between the ages of 18 and 30 interested in sustainability or climate change to participate in conversations surrounding climate action and work together to build plans for their communities. The organization plans on selecting about half of the participants from the South Florida area.

The Application for the Future Leaders Summit is open and will close on November 14 at 11:59 p.m.

Helen Acevedo is an FIU student majoring in broadcast media with a minor in political science and international relations. She is passionate about giving people a platform to tell their truths.