The urgency of climate change demands an informed and engaged public. As director of the CLEO Institute, I keep up with current data and findings as our non-profit simplifies climate science, seriousness and solutions for a lay public. The work is rewarding, but the science is utterly depressing. There are days when I just want to go sit in a corner and rock quietly. I am not alone.
Report after report confirms: There is consensus — climate change is real; it is human-caused; it is serious; and what we do matters. The rate of change is feeding anxiety that we are not moving fast enough; we are creating a hostile world where humanity and biodiversity cannot thrive; and the most vulnerable among us are the most affected. Our elected and economic leaders must act, and an engaged public must speak up.
Current climate change is largely because of the burning of fossil fuels (oil, coal, gas) releasing excessive amounts of heat-trapping greenhouse gases such as CO2 into the atmosphere. Rapidly increasing amounts of these gases means we are trapping more heat than the Earth can handle. This human-caused or anthropogenic global warming results in disruptions, including extreme weather events, warming oceans, increased ice melt, sea-level rise, ocean acidification, prolonged heat waves and the vulnerability of our food, water, health and biodiversity.
Taking action means mitigating the causes of global warming (by reducing fossil-fuel use and increasing renewable energy) and adapting to the effects already in place (by building resilient coastlines, elevating roads, hardening infrastructure, etc.)
During the past five years The CLEO Institute and our partners — scientists, educators, communicators, business and community leaders — have hosted countless formal and informal learning opportunities on the topic. We’ve engaged more than 25,000 people, and our social-media span exceeds 130,000. It is something, but not nearly enough — not when southeast Florida alone has a population close to 6 million —more than most states — and the governor doesn’t tend to act on science or in the public’s interest.
But on Oct. 14, something changed in Miami — and perhaps in all of South Florida. It felt like a million people — all ages, colors and cultures — as far as the eye could see, marching from the Stephen P. Clark Center to the Torch of Freedom on Biscayne Boulevard. They showed up with signs, banners, music, chants and messages for our leaders: No more talk, it is time to act on climate. I was moved beyond words as I applauded the bullhorn appeals to chant: “The seas are rising — and so are we!”
The number was not in the millions; it just seemed that way through my tear-filled eyes. There were about 2,000 people at the march. I’ve long wanted to see this degree of civic engagement on this crucial issue.
A handful of climate-engaged elected leaders was present, and we publicly acknowledged them. We had hoped for many more. We need leadership at all levels to tackle solutions and act in the public’s interest. Soon climate denial will become a major liability for every candidate running for election or re-election.
CLEO was proud to work with the New Florida Majority, Catalyst Miami, the League of Women Voters, Sustainable Miami, NextGen Climate, US Climate Action Network, 350.org SFL, Urban Paradise Guild, Florida International University, Miami Dade College and about 50 other organizations to coordinate this event. The innovative planning skills and tremendous range of insights of these diverse groups were apparent at our weekly meetings. We became friends and creative problem-solvers. We went into the nooks and crannies of our county and region and invited everyone to the table. We scheduled “art builds” and press releases and crowd funding efforts. And we had a common agenda: that Miami stand and be counted that day, the National Climate Day of Action.
And the people turned out: frontline communities, artists, performers, musicians, social-justice leaders, cultural groups, parents, children, elected leaders and concerned citizens. Some came from as far away as Delray Beach, Palm Beach, Naples, and Tallahassee.
I haven’t wanted to sit in a corner and rock quietly since.
Caroline Lewis is executive director of the CLEO Institute, based in Pinecrest.