House on Fire: A podcast takes on climate change

Sitting in a soundproof room and talking into a microphone allowed 21-year-old Gabriela Rodriguez to make herself heard. 

Florida International University environmental science major Gabriela Rodriguez started working on “House on Fire” last fall in hope of educating listeners on how to face the climate crisis through advocacy and political engagement. 

“There is no resilience in Miami and other vulnerable cities unless everyone has a basic understanding of climate change,” said Rodriguez.

Rodriguez co-hosts “House on Fire” along with 17-year-old John Paul Mejia. It includes conversations with experts in the environmental field such as NBC 6 meteorologist John Morales and Miami Herald journalist Alex Harris. 

“’House on Fire’ acts as a catalyst, not only in Miami but also internationally, to inspire a sense of justice and knowledge among the people who will be impacted by climate change,” said Mejia. “We are in the midst of a climate crisis, and we need urgent action to be taken by our leaders to ensure justice and better futures for this generation.”

The first episode aired June 2, 2020, and was powered by The CLEO Institute, a nonprofit organization founded in 2010 by Caroline Lewis, which advocates climate action through educational programs and engagement. 

“I really believe in the power of young people to influence change,” said Lewis. “I also believe in the power of individuals to make changes, but for them to change for the right reasons and in the right way, you have to give them context.”

Rodriguez initially joined CLEO as an intern while attending a symposium hosted in 2019, and then became a program coordinator. Her work includes educating middle and high school students through workshops and presentations on how to take action on protecting the environment. 

“We have GenCLEO, which is a youth empowerment movement that engages the kids and young adults to take climate action,” said Rodriguez.

In September last year, the global climate strike demanding action from governments and large corporations was the main priority. Still, the pandemic forced Rodriguez and other program coordinators to seek alternatives.

“The best way to engage has been through virtual meetups,” said Rodriguez. “If there is one thing the pandemic has changed, it is that we have been able to reach more people because nobody has to drive anywhere.”

Rodriguez met with Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, and Miami-Dade Commissioners Daniella Levine Cava and John Morales to raise awareness for climate change among local officials. 

“We have a good relationship with local officials, even though I am not saying there is nothing to improve in Miami because we are considered the Ground Zero for climate change,” said Rodriguez. “However, on a federal level, I think the government has not only dismissed but completely shown indifference to any climate crisis concerns.”

Rodriguez participated in “Enough 2020: Reclaiming our Future,” a live stream event organized ahead of National Voter Registration Day to encourage young voters to register. It included guests such as Mark Ruffalo, an American actor known for his roles as Hulk in “The Avengers” franchise, who is also a political and climate activist.

Rodriguez emphasized that young voters in Miami-Dade County must focus on voting in the presidential and local mayoral elections, both taking place in November, a recurring topic in “House on Fire.” 

“Everyone involved in the climate action movement joins not because we want to but because we have to,” said Rodriguez. “I encourage the youth to cast a ballot because even though voting is not a guarantee that everything will change suddenly, it can definitely put us on the right path.”

Originally from Cuba, she moved to the United States in 2013. Currently working on her Bachelors in Communications, she is motivated to strive in the areas of immigration and environmentalism.