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Miami Expert On How Climate Change Accelerates Gentrification: "It's A Double Whammy"

Alejandra Martinez
The executive director and founder of the CLEO Institute, Caroline Lewis, and Sundial host Luis Hernandez in the sutdio.

Caroline Lewis has made it her life mission to amplify conversations around climate change. She founded the CLEO Institute in Miami in 2010 and has focused her efforts on educating the public. Lewis and her team hold town halls and events where they break down climate jargon into what she calls little “nuggets of information.” She was recently named by TIME Magazineas one of the top leaders changing the American South because of her climate change efforts.

The institute’s next event, in collaboration with WLRN, is on climate change gentrification. It's part of the Freedom to Breathe bus tour, crossing the county to inform the public about the impacts of climate change on social justice issues. 

"It's Time To Talk About Climate Change" will be held at Vizcaya Museum & Gardens on Aug. 27 at 3 p.m. Lewis joined Sundial to discuss the challenges of communicating the threats posed by climate change and the importance of a better “climate-informed” public, and she explained climate change gentrification.

WLRN: Is there a link between climate change and the increased intensity of storms?

Lewis: We definitely link the intensity of storms to climate change because, when you think about it, 93 percent of the heat that is being trapped by greenhouse gases is in the ocean. If the ocean is that warm, you think about hurricanes. Warm waters are a fuel to hurricanes. The size and intensity of hurricanes are completely affected by the warming oceans and the warming atmosphere.

How often do you run into a climate science denier and what's your approach?

Quite frankly when people say they don't believe in climate change I get crazy because it's like saying I don't believe in gravity. If I drop this pen it's going to fall. I would say to all of them this: if you trust science enough to get on a plane you need to trust the science coming out on these climate numbers. What frustrates me the most is the lack of urgency...even those who get it don't get the window of opportunity we have to stop this.

How do you define South Florida climate change gentrification?

If you look at Miami-Dade County as a flat pancake, if put two hands together flat on the table and then you elevate your middle fingers, [you] have a ridge in the middle of Miami-Dade County. That ridge is where we put the railroad tracks and that ridge historically is where the black and brown people live. We are talking about Liberty City, Little Haiti and Allapattah.

Well, when you look at the east part of Miami-Dade County near the Atlantic Ocean, they're experiencing tidal flooding as the seas rise. So this ridge that is 15 to 20 feet above sea level in parts is like the Rocky Mountains and developers are looking at the elevation more and more for several reasons: Do you want to buy and build on low lying areas and have to account for that sea-level rise and pay higher insurance or do you want to get on the ridge?

So the people on the ridge are telling us that they feel a predatory acceleration of developers knocking on their doors. Some of them are being told by the developer knocking on the door that they're in foreclosure before they even know they're in foreclosure. So it's a double whammy for those without resources. They cannot live paycheck to paycheck, have a disaster like Hurricane Irma, miss two weeks of work and not fall behind. They are vulnerable.