Pope Francis once said, “listen to the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor, who suffer most because of the unbalanced ecology.”
He was giving a speech urging world leaders to act on climate change, but he might as well have been talking to Miami’s elected officials. After all, the changing climate poses dramatic and expensive challenges to Miami — and often in unexpected ways.
In a new study, researchers at the Harvard Institute of Politics say that climate change will rapidly accelerate gentrification in Miami-Dade County.
The authors write that “climate change impacts arguably make some property more or less valuable by virtue of its capacity to accommodate a certain density of human settlement and its associated infrastructure.”
The wealthiest in Miami will abandon coastal properties for higher ground as the sea rises. They will set their sights on neighborhoods like Little Haiti. Property values in low-lying areas will depreciate dramatically.
Landlords with property on higher ground will sell. Wealthy developers and buyers will create fancy studios like those on NE 71st Street with no affordable housing on site.
Many renters have already been evicted from their homes and businesses because of their homes and business sites have been sold or rents have soared, leaving the poorest among us displaced.
Today, many immigrant families have been harmed by extreme weather, including more intense and deadly hurricanes. We know that when there is a natural disaster, whether in Haiti, Chile, Colombia or anywhere around the world, it’s low-income families that are affected first and worst.
That’s true in the United States as well.
Perhaps the most egregious part of this climate gentrification, however, is that Miami taxpayers are on the hook for 100 percent of the costs associated with planning for and adapting to climate change. Despite this, we still have no real sense of what the toll will be due to the fact that Miami still does not account for the costs associated with it.
While the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County have been proactive in many ways and works with the region’s three other counties to coordinate adaption efforts, it is important that Miami track and incorporate resiliency efforts into future projects paid for by the city and county.
Tracking of climate resiliency and mitigation efforts in projects will lessen future impacts to infrastructure and lower financial exposure to Miami and its residents.
We need leaders in the private and public sectors to take steps to work with stakeholders NOW to resolve these issues in a strategic way.
That means that the people most affected by the changing climate be allowed to sit at the same table as developers and decision-makers and have a discussion that’s long overdue.
We can achieve this if our elected officials listen first and act second.
Please join me Saturday Sept. 8 in Bayfront Park as we join hundreds of cities across the country in rising for climate, jobs, and justice at this year’s People’s Climate Movement National Day of Action. To learn more, go to Facebook: “Miami Rising”.
Marleine Bastien, a founding member of the Miami Climate Alliance, is a licensed clinical social worker and executive director of Haitian Women for Miami (Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami)
“The Invading Sea” is a collaboration of four South Florida media organizations — the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald, Palm Beach Post and WLRN Public Media.