By Ryan Sears
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez recently joined a “Climate Mayors” webinar and touted the city of Miami as a global example of the bold leadership necessary to confront the climate crisis. Yet, later that same day, his office released a budget proposal that would abolish the city’s only office dedicated exclusively to implementing a robust citywide resilience strategy.
Page 258 of the mayor’s proposals says: “The budget includes the transfer of the Resilience and Sustainability function, personnel, and funding from the Office of Resilience and Sustainability to the Resilience and Public Works Department. The personnel are reflected in the prior Department in FY 2019-20 and in the new Department in FY 2020-21 (three positions, $234,000).”
Though Miami faces a COVID-19 budget shortfall that will force the city to make tough budgetary decisions, it cannot allow for its bold promise of an equitable and climate-resilient Miami to fall victim to austerity politics.
As rising sea levels, increased flooding and intensifying storms threaten Miami’s viability, the decision to terminate the Office of Resilience and Sustainability is not only myopic — it weakens the future of young people living in Miami.
Young climate activists like me are overwhelmed by the uncertainty of the destruction that climate change will inflict on our city. Already, chronic flooding has become a reality in Miami, but the worst effects of sea-level rise lie decades in the future. That means that not only will today’s young people be the demographic most catastrophically affected, we will make up the tax base primarily responsible for paying for it.
Yet, we had hope that the same city administration that declared a climate state of emergency in November 2019 and released the Miami Forever Climate Ready strategy in January 2020 would make the necessary investments to guarantee a livable future for us. But this imprudent shift in budgetary priorities, made in the midst of an accelerating climate crisis, signals a weakening of the commitment to the legitimate issues that young people are concerned about.
The idea of the Office of Resilience and Sustainability was sound: Resilience requires charting a path to carbon neutrality, communicating climate risk to vulnerable communities, reimagining transportation and guaranteeing housing affordability.
The proposed budget plans to gut the department and incorporate it as a division of resilience and public works, calling on the director, Alan Dodd, a retired colonel with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to serve as both public works director and chief resilience officer. The implications of this change are stark.
By suggesting that the city’s expansive climate-resilience and sustainability initiatives are no longer first-order priorities, it will likely transfer greater risk onto future generations, setting up Miami’s most vulnerable communities for even worse consequences down the line.
Confronting the existential threats to all sectors of this city — from our roads to our parks, our housing market to our bus fleet — is not merely a task for the public works department. It requires a creative and experienced chief resilience officer.
That person’s single responsibility should be to oversee people-centric strategies for adapting to the stresses and shocks caused by climate change and who is independently empowered to hold all city departments and key stakeholders accountable to climate-forward priorities.
The Office of Resilience and Sustainability is far too critical to the future of Miami and its young people to be relegated to the margins of the city’s bureaucracy. If we recognize the gravity of the climate emergency in Miami — if we truly want a livable city for today’s young people — then now is precisely the time to elevate the scale and scope of resilience efforts.
I encourage everyone to speak out against this proposed action. Public comments for the Aug. 3 Miami Climate Resilience Committee meeting are due at 5 p.m. July 31.
Climate change and its destructive effects on all aspects of Miami life will not slow down for COVID-19. For the sake of the young people who call Miami home, the city’s resolve to fight it cannot slow down either.
Ryan Sears, who attended school in Miami, is a member of the 2022 class of Harvard College.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.