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Sundial Town Hall Panel Discusses Climate Risk Ahead Of The Miami Debates

The threat posed to Floridians by climate change is a daily reality: rising seas, hotter temperatures, more flooding and stronger hurricanes.

Local governments have begun responding to the risks with new projects, and voters in several cities have said OK to borrowing money for projects to better prepare and protect neighborhoods.  On Tuesday night ahead of the Democratic Presidential Debates, WLRN's Sundial and the Miami Herald presented a community town hall conversation about climate risk featuring a panel of journalists, advocates and politicians.


Panelists: WLRN environmental reporter Jenny Staletovich; Miami Herald climate change reporter Alex Harris; Caroline Lewis, climate change educator and founder of the CLEO Institute; South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard, a Florida International University biology professor; and state Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, chairwoman of  the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee.

Sundial host Luis Hernandez spoke with the panelists about what more should be done to address these risks and took audience questions.

WLRN: Why does a rift between parties (Democratic and Republican) still exist? Why are we still debating the science and not debating solutions?

LEWIS: I don't know. Everybody says education is the answer and I've been an educator my entire life, a schoolteacher and principal. And education does not change behavior, unfortunately. If it did, everybody would be, you know, acting in the public's interest. I consider public elected leaders, public servants — and you save the public by acting in their interests. This disdain for the science is really troubling. I called this denial of climate science in 2003 up in the New York area. ... You know what's missing? You media people are not connecting the dots for the public. You're not doing a good enough job when you're reporting on the rate at which a hurricane intensifies. You're not connecting that when you talk about food and water vulnerability and home affordability. Not connect the dots for the audience.

STALETOVICH: First of all, like hurricane intensification, you can't. There is science showing that hurricanes are expected and projected to become more intense. ... Yes, I know Harvey was more intense and had more rain because of climate change. We connect the dots that scientists have researched and found.

LEWIS: Jenny, no it's not about you, but there's a correlation and there's a prediction that we're going to go from hurricane category one to hurricane category five pretty fast. Everybody tells you that's going to happen. If it does happen you cannot fake climate change made that happen but the likelihood of it happening is going to continue to increase.

STODDARD: They're showing a nice upwards curve in the surface temperatures in the gulf. And that curve isn't happening on its own. It's being driven by extra heat and that's what spinning the storms up faster. The fact that we've had record temperatures two days ago and we keep having those record temperatures that's climate.

WLRN: I want to know exactly what is it you want to hear and see from the media on the coverage? Alex, what are the discussions that we have with editors about how we do this and what message we get out?

There's definitely a movement that I think is a positive one among the climate community to mention it more often. When you're talking about housing affordability and then you can say there's a possibility that climate gentrification is an issue in this neighborhood. There are times when you can say you're experiencing a heat wave and there will be more of those in the future.

You can watch a Facebook live of Monday's town hall event focusing on climate risk below.

Chris knew he wanted to work in public radio beginning in middle school, as WHYY played in his car rides to and from school in New Jersey. He’s freelanced for All Things Considered and was a desk associate for CBS Radio News in New York City. Most recently, he was producing for Capital Public Radio’s Insight booking guests, conducting research and leading special projects at Sacramento’s NPR affiliate.