A Coastal Resilience Specialist with North Carolina’s Division of Coastal Management in Morehead City, Christian Kamrath works with local governments and partner organizations to facilitate coastal adaptation and resilience planning in the state’s twenty coastal counties. Previously, he worked on climate adaptation, disaster recovery and emergency preparedness planning with North Carolina Sea Grant, the Hurricane Matthew Disaster Recovery and Resilience Initiative and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A self-proclaimed weather-nerd, Christian is a former forecaster at the University of Florida (WRUF-TV6), and now a recent graduate (’18) of the Masters of City and Regional Planning program at UNC-Chapel Hill. Christian is also the owner of CK Resilience Planning, an independent consulting firm.
Making the “Miami Forever Bond” a Model for Equitable Climate Adaptation
By Zelalem Adefris, Resilience Director at Catalyst Miami
You could say that Miami, Florida, is ground zero for climate change. As the American city most vulnerable to sea-level rise, Miami faces existential threats from flooding, storm surge and saltwater intrusion in the city’s drinking water. And growing inequity places Miami’s low-income and marginalized communities at extraordinary risk from climate impacts.
But—thanks to the Miami Climate Alliance, a coalition of citizens’ groups–this coastal city could also be at the forefront of equitable climate adaptation.
Last year, under the leadership of its outgoing Republican Mayor, Tomás Regalado, Miami’s voters passed a $400 million “Miami Forever Bond.” The measure authorized the city government to borrow money on the municipal bond market to address sea-level rise and the city’s affordable housing crisis, levying a new property tax to repay the debt. The Miami Climate Alliance is working to ensure that the bond benefits those who need it most.
How did a famously tax-averse city with a conservative Republican mayor find itself in the vanguard of climate adaptation? The answer lies, in part, with Regalado’s conversion from climate skepticism. When he was elected in 2009, Regalado thought that sea level rise was “a very distant future possibility,” he later told The New York Times. But, during a series of 4:30 am chats over Cuban coffee, Regalado’s son, Jose, convinced him of the urgency of the problem.
That urgency has become increasingly difficult to ignore. Over the last 10 years, the Miami region has seen floods increase in frequency by 400 percent; fish now swim the flooded streets even on rainless, sunny days. The ocean that laps at the region’s famed beaches has risen nearly a foot since preindustrial times, and could swell by six feet or more by the end of this century. Rising seas will combine with supercharged storms to inundate the Miami region, which is home to nearly three million people.
Of course, not all people are affected equally by climate threats. That was evident when Hurricane Andrew tore through Miami in 1992; the hardest-hit areas included the impoverished municipality of Florida City, south of downtown Miami. While neighboring areas quickly bounced back after the storm, Florida City suffered from plummeting property values and rising poverty.
And, despite the city’s booming tourist trade and glittering seaside real estate, many City of Miami residents are struggling to get by. Nearly 60 percent of Miami-Dade County households are considered financially unstable; one in five live in poverty. Poverty is most prevalent among African-American and Hispanic communities, which together make up 85 percent of Miami-Dade’s population.
As climate impacts became a daily reality for the people of the City of Miami, Mayor Regalado gathered support for the bond initiative. He got an assist from the First Street Foundation, whose Seawall Coalition (a 501 (c) (4) organization) spent $350,000 to educate the city’s voters about sea-level rise. Ultimately, about 55 percent of Miami’s electorate voted in favor of the Miami Forever Bond.
Miami is not the first U.S. city to raise money to gird against climate change. In 2012, Seattle voters overwhelmingly approved a $290 million debt measure to rebuild a seawall that protects the downtown waterfront. And in 2016, San Francisco Bay area residents approved a tax to fund a $500 million restoration of tidal marshes, which act as a buffer against storm surges.
In Miami, city officials have set broad outlines for how the bond funds will be spent: they have earmarked $192 million for storm drain upgrades, flood pumps and seawalls to curb flooding; $100 million for affordable housing and economic development; $78 million for parks and cultural facilities; $23 million for road improvements; and $7 million for public safety.
But the devil, as always, is in the details. Which neighborhoods will see the greatest benefit from bond funding? And who decides how the money will be spent? The stakes are high: if spending bypasses Miami’s most vulnerable communities, current inequities will only deepen in the decades to come.
That’s why the Miami Climate Alliance is working to make sure the Miami Forever Bond benefits all the city’s people—especially those in underserved communities.
The Alliance was convened in 2015 by a diverse group of some 100 Miami-area residents (including community leaders, students, over 80 community organizations, social justice advocates, environmentalists, scientists, teachers, and climate activists) to organize the Miami People’s Climate March. While organizing the March, Alliance members were surprised to learn that there was no mention of climate change—or funding for climate action—in Miami-Dade County’s $6.8 million FY 2015-16 budget. So the Alliance mobilized residents to speak up during the budget hearings, which led to the creation of the County’s Office of Resilience and its first-ever Chief Resilience Officer.
Since then, the Alliance and its member organizations have pushed Miami to take the lead on equitable climate action. For example, after the Trump administration withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord, the Alliance won commitments from several local municipalities to support the Accord targets on renewable energy. And, when the City appointed a new Sea Level Rise Committee, the Alliance fought hard to make sure that Committee reflects the city’s diversity.
“If you include black and brown people, people from the community, you’ll change the dynamic,” Trenise Bryant, an Alliance activist, told the Miami Herald earlier this year.
Now the Alliance is working to make sure that communities have a real say in how the Miami Forever Bond funds are spent. To that end, the Miami Climate Alliance and Catalyst Miami organized a series of town halls, which drew dozens of community members. There, residents agreed on a set of criteria to apply to Bond-funded projects. The Alliance will work to make sure those criteria are used by a citizen oversight board that makes recommendations on Bond spending to the City Commission.
The Alliance also helped shape the citizen oversight board, making sure it reflects the City’s racial, gender and age diversity—while excluding those with overt conflicts of interest. And the Alliance helped ensure that the board includes not only those with expertise in hydrology, architecture, and engineering, but also those with knowledge of community leadership and an equity perspective. All of these asks were incorporated into the oversight board ordinance by the City Commission and Mayor Francis Suarez.
It’s a slow-moving process: nearly a year after the bond’s approval, the city’s oversight board has still not met. However, the Miami Climate Alliance will be there every step of the way, amplifying the voices of those at greatest risk from climate impacts. If this effort succeeds, Miami could be a model of climate adaptation that is both farsighted and just.
The Southeast Florida Regional Climate Leadership Summit will take place next week on October 24-25 in Miami Beach. Miami-Dade County and the City of Miami Beach are hosting the 10th Annual Climate Leadership Summit on behalf of the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact. Registration closes on October 19th. A waitlist is available for the first 50 people who are interested in attending.
Mentorship Program Spotlight: Innovating on Adaptation
Miles Gordon is a Research Intern at the Cadmus Group’s Strategy and Policy Group in Boston, MA, where he works on a variety of projects focused on urban resilience and sustainability policy. Originally from Portland, Miles received his Bachelor’s in Political Science from the University of Oregon in 2016. Now a recent graduate from Ohio University with a master’s degree in Environmental Studies, his graduate work focused on climate adaptation planning methods for native tribes in the United States.
Seeking to advance his expertise with mentorship from a seasoned adaptation practitioner, Miles was happy to meet Sascha Petersen. Sascha has been working in the climate change field for more than twelve years. He founded Adaptation International in 2010 and was the first managing director of the American Society of Adaptation Professionals (hey, that’s us!). Also a lead author on the National Climate Assessment, Sascha has worked with climate scientists and municipal governments and focuses on bridging the gaps between climate change science, policy and action. Originally from Alaska, Sascha earned his Bachelor’s in Physics from Pomona in California and has been unstoppable since—he’s even trained astronauts at the Johnson Space Center!
A topic that Miles and Sascha have been actively exploring is how to successfully cultivate a career in adaptation. Since climate adaptation is a relatively nascent field, formal certification structures do not yet exist. The path towards carving out a career in the adaptation space is not as linear as it is in other fields (e.g., accounting or city planning).
Considering this, many of Miles and Sascha’s conversations have been around how to navigate the evolving field of climate adaptation to build a fulfilling career path. Something Miles has learned is that an ‘adaptation-only’ setting isn’t necessary to carve out space as an adaptation professional. As his internship at Cadmus has progressed, he has found that projects that aren’t strictly focused on adaptation planning still bring meaningful experiences that add to an adaptation skill set and knowledge base, as well as an adaptation resume.
“Miles has a great sense of how to advocate for himself in a professional setting. My role has been less of a guide and mostly to serve as a ‘gut check’ and help reinforce and support his feelings and approach to creating a career in adaptation.”
Sascha notes that Miles is also sort of a tri-coastal chameleon. Since he grew up in Oregon, went to school in Ohio, and now works in Boston, being able to blend in from the West Coast to the Northeast will prove to be a great asset in his resilience work. With such a dynamic adaptation future on the horizon, we hope Miles will bring his field experience, knowledge and wisdom back to ASAP’s Mentorship Program!
Regional Adaptation Leadership Awards
Congratulations to 2018 Great Lakes Regional Adaptation Leadership Award honorees Chris Swanston, Matthew Gray, Jessica Hellmann and Heather Stirratt! Thank you for your contributions and leadership in the field of climate adaptation.
Director, Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science and the USDA Northern Forests Climate Hub
Chris Swanston is a leader among Great Lakes adaptation professionals, directing both the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science (NIACS) and USDA Northern Forests Climate Hub. Through his leadership, he has transformed the way many people approach climate adaptation in land management and forestry. His vision is clear: there is a need in the field to bridge the gap between science and action communities. Chris created the Climate Change Response Framework (CCRF) as an integrated approach for responding to climate change through partnerships, vulnerability assessments, adaptation resources, and real-world demonstrations.
As a strong communicator, he has built his team of one to a team of twenty. Vibrant with expertise in climate impacts modeling, ecosystem adaptation, and forest carbon management, the efficacy of the NIACS team has culminated into a high-performing, collaborative, and trusted organization dedicated to serving the needs of land owners and managers across the region. Thousands of natural resource professionals have learned about climate change adaptation through CCRF presentations, trainings, field tours, and more than 250 real-world demonstration projects that use the Adaptation Workbook. Prioritizing respect for local knowledge and individual landowners’ perspectives on managing risks, NIACS team members are coaches for smart adaptation decision-making. Chris’s ideas are central to the adaptation work done at NIACS, and these ideas have ensured success for many. We are honored to honor Chris Swanston as the Winner of the Great Lakes Regional Adaptation Leadership Award. Congratulations, Chris!
Chief of Sustainability, City of Cleveland
Since returning from a Fulbright in Mauritius and joining the staff of the City of Cleveland Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, Matthew Gray has been working to both reduce greenhouse gases and increase resilience of the City of Cleveland. As a positive role model for other cities in the region, Matt has led efforts through the Urban Sustainability Directors’ Network to create a template for climate change vulnerability assessments to help other cities move forward on climate adaptation. Matt has revamped the Cleveland Carbon Fund to include adaptation work, and co-leads an effort to develop a regional network of cities working on climate adaptation to streamline adaptation efforts.
Matt has worked tirelessly to promote equitable adaptation in Cleveland’s Climate Action Plan and has reached out to numerous city departments to encourage climate change mitigation and adaptation in internal planning efforts. As a city liaison forging strong relationships among organizations in Cleveland to support and carry the work forward, he organizes learning events with partners and an annual Sustainability Summit that brings together leaders from across the city to discuss priorities. We are happy to recognize this work that is so beneficial not only to the people of Cleveland, but to the entire region. Congratulations, Matt!
Director, University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment (IonE)
Jessica Hellmann is an Ecologist studying the effects of climate and other global changes on ecosystems and the people who depend on them. She is dedicated to finding solutions to environmental threats that improve human livelihoods and ecosystem health. A civic leader dedicated to integrating climate adaptation into other fields, she regularly advises organizations such as the Great Plains Institute, Climate Generation and other nonprofits about often-overlooked strategies for adapting to climate change. Jessica envisions a network of change agents for climate adaptation with broad reach within and outside academia. Through her leadership of IonE and the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative, she asserts that powerful networks informed by research and education are what is needed to create a hopeful, climate adaptive future. Jessica has taken the Urban Adaptation Assessment to the next level of impact and effectiveness by expanding it to 240 cities in the U.S., integrating a novel approach to measuring social equity.
Additionally, Jessica has led research showing changing climate conditions can influence both species distribution and the rate of evolution by examining modern day and museum butterfly species. Emphasizing her ability to learn and teach on the fly as a skilled science communicator, Jessica is routinely called upon by leading media outlets around the world such as CNN, NPR, Fox News, The Telegraph and the Chicago Tribune to provide expert input on topics related to adaptation and ways to minimize adverse impacts to people and nature. We are very grateful for her contributions to the field of adaptation and her presence in the Great Lakes region. Congratulations, Jessica!
Tune in to hear Director Jessica Hellmann present her vision for the future of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota.
Great Lakes Lead for NOAA’s National Ocean Service at NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management
Twin Cities, MN
Heather Stirratt’s work on climate change adaptation motivates communities across the Great Lakes Region. From her NOAA National Ocean Service office in Twin Cities, MN, she has worked with researchers, municipalities, and students to ensure communities receive the support that they need to advance climate-informed decisions at multiple scales. Heather sees the need for broad capacity building. She has acted on this vision through the development of the Great Lakes Climate Training toolkit and of city and neighborhood specific resources in collaboration with the Great Lakes Saint Lawrence Cities Initiative. Heather has a demonstrable ability to think holistically about climate change and its related impacts. She is remarkably capable at bringing together the branches of federal government to serve the needs of the whole region.
A natural engagement specialist, Heather brings people together for a common cause, routinely communicates complex challenges, and truly meets people where they are. Her ability to build and work within teams from across a range of federal agencies — as well as coordinate numerous regional NOAA activities — highlight her power of persuasion and tenacity. When she brings together this potent combination it leads to successfully implemented projects, groundbreaking reports, and successful, engaging events. Her ability to summon resources makes her a terrific ally on a project and one of the most effective adaptation professionals in the Great Lakes region. We are very happy to award her with this Special Recognition for her contributions to the field of adaptation. Congratulations, Heather!
In the latest episode of our ASAP Mentorship Program, we learn that a common theme that has come out of this mentorship pair’s discussions is the need for creative, out of the box thinking for solving complex problems. Vidya Balasubramanyam (Mentee) is a NOAA Coastal Management Fellow working in New Hampshire’s coastal communities. She leads the Smart Shorelines project to inform the siting and socialization of living shorelines in New Hampshire. Josh Foster (Mentor) is an adaptation consultant and active ASAP Board Member who has over 25 years of experience working on climate change science, policy, and adaptation in the federal and non-profit sectors.
Congratulations to 2018 California Regional Adaptation Leadership Award honorees Tiffany Wise-West, Andrew Gunther, and Nicola Hedge! Thank you for your contributions and leadership in the field of climate adaptation.
Sierra Woodruff and Russ Sands share their experience in designing the ASAP Mentorship Program
ASAP at the California Adaptation Forum
Are you coming to the California Adaptation Forum? ASAP is blanketing the forum with member presentations, daily newsletter coverage (via the Daily Digests), and plenty of opportunities to meet and network with other ASAP members. Below are a few sessions that you can meet-up with other ASAP members and stay up to date on ASAP activities:
Join us for an ASAP-hosted Accelerator Workshop and In-person ASAP Member Meeting on August 29 (RSVP). The Accelerator Workshop, From National to Global: ASAP Members Lead the Transfer of Adaptation Best Practices to the Global Climate Action Summit, will provide members an opportunity to generate a white paper on the best practices and needs identified during the California adaptation forum to share at the Global Climate Action Summit in September. Workshop participants will draw on the ASAP Daily Digests and their own experiences, to synthesize the knowledge, experiences, and skills shared during the conference. The second half of the workshop will serve as an ASAP In-Person Meeting and will feature brief presentations on the organization’s growth and accomplishments over the past year and current member activities. Working in small groups, members will provide recommendations for how ASAP can continue to support member needs and grow the organization.
Are you a Resilience Dialogue Alum or just want to learn more about the program? Join us for breakfast on Wednesday, August 29. ASAP will host a Resilience Dialogues Community Meeting where participants will hear updates from the program’s alumni communities and engage in a facilitated, online and in-person conversation about enhancing local community capacity for building climate resilience.
We are also thrilled to be honoring recipients of the 2018 California Regional Adaptation Leadership Award (RALA) during Wednesday’s Forum plenary.
For ASAP members who can’t attend, be sure to watch for the CAF Daily Digests! We will be sending out a special daily edition of the ASAP Member News that will include a list of ASAP member presentations at CAF and summaries of the day’s events. Follow us at @adaptpros with hashtag #CAadapts on Twitter to learn more about what is happening on the ground!
Contributed by Kendall Starkman, Four Twenty Seven, Inc.
Contributed by Gwen Griffith, Model Forest Policy Program
(a shorter version of this story appears in our ASAP member newsletter June 28, 2018)
“Rural communities are highly dependent upon natural resources that are affected by climate change. These communities also face particular obstacles in responding to climate change that increase their vulnerability to its impacts.” National Climate Assessment 2014
Across America, less than 20% of the population (~ 60 million) lives on 95% of the land that we call “rural” America. They are the vital stewards of the sparsely populated landscapes of small towns, watersheds, forests, grasslands, deserts, and farms. These lands provide nature’s services that 80% of Americans depend on for air, water, food, fiber, habitat, and recreation. Despite the importance of managing rural lands for climate resilience, underserved rural communities lack the capacity to tackle climate impacts on their own.
Recognizing this critical challenge, the Model Forest Policy Program is embarking on a new approach to meeting the particular needs of rural adaptation with the Resilient Rural America Project (RRAP), developed in collaboration with the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), EcoAdapt, Geos Institute, and the NOAA Climate Program Office and funded by the Climate Resilience Fund and Harmonic International, Inc.
The overarching goal is to accelerate rural climate action by strengthening the ability of adaptation professionals to meet the needs of underserved rural communities and operate from a more sustainable funding stream. The project objective is to co-produce and beta test an innovative adaptation training module that enables and motivates rural leaders to take action on a specific, priority adaptation strategy. Using a co-production model, the training content and delivery methods are developed in consultation with rural users and adaptation service providers. The selection of the training module topic depends on input from adaptation professionals and rural users to understand their priorities and needs. The resulting training module will be a time efficient process that fits the particular needs of rural leaders. The first step in user engagement is the rural resilience service provider survey, which is available at this survey link. We strongly encourage climate professionals of all disciplines to take this survey now and contribute to the design and success of the project. The survey findings and training module will be a resource for all adaptation professionals and rural leaders. Thank you for taking this survey and contributing to rural resilience where ever you are!