Irma provided Miami a blunt reminder about its vulnerability to extreme weather events, rising waters and a changing climate. It crippled power grids across South Florida, leaving millions in the dark; it ground commerce to a costly halt; its storm surge transformed Brickell Avenue, the financial — and increasingly residential — heart of the city, into an extension of Biscayne Bay; and shut down Miami International Airport and PortMiami for days.
These are all familiar results when a hurricane makes a direct hit, yet the brunt of Hurricane Irma missed Miami by a long shot: it made landfall near Marco Island, 100 miles west of the Magic City on the opposite side of the Florida peninsula, a fact that puts the storm’s alarming size and strength into sobering focus. What would have happened if Irma had made a direct hit on Miami? The destruction is hard to fathom, but as extreme weather events become more frequent and more powerful, the likelihood of this troubling scenario grows.
The American Security Project (ASP) was created to educate Americans about the changing nature of national security in the 21st century — including the growing threat that extreme weather events and a changing climate pose to our national security. We are a forward-thinking organization whose members have a depth of experience in military and national security matters, business, policy-making, science and other fields. We are unified in our belief that Americans must recalibrate how they think about national security. It is time to look beyond traditional security concerns like conventional weapons and armies, and consider issues such as the changing climate as real threats to America’s security and prosperity — from devastated food crops, to shortages of potable water, to destructive extreme weather events.
Perhaps nowhere else in America is an embrace of this mindset more relevant than Miami, a city whose natural beauty belies the growing reality of destructive extreme weather events. Miami is home to critical — and vulnerable — military installations, including the U.S. Southern Command and Homestead Air
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Reserve Base. Furthermore, Greater Miami’s critical infrastructure, its economy and institutions and, most important, its residents, all are increasingly threatened by the changing climate. While hurricanes make headlines, there are subtler signs that Miami’s climate security is at risk, too: Municipal bond ratings are being affected as lenders calculate the near- and long-term risks of investing in Miami; neighborhoods across the region experience sunny-day flooding regularly; and saltwater intrusion increasingly damages South Florida’s freshwater supplies and the security of the people and industries relying on them.
Fortunately, local political leaders and citizens of different political stripes are already coming together to safeguard their community, their homes and their livelihoods against the growing threat of extreme weather. Miami voters recently approved the Miami Forever Bond, which will see the city invest nearly $200 million in long-term solutions to protect against climate impacts. Similar efforts are already well under way in the city of Miami Beach, and The Nature Conservancy’s Climate Program is investing locally in nature-based climate defense measures to strengthen Miami’s shorelines.
As I learned in my 35-year career in the U.S. military, preparedness is vital to success in any arena. Greater Miami is demonstrating to cities across the country that now is the time to prepare for near- and long-term climate impacts through smart planning and decisive action. I invite interested Miamians to join the American Security Project on May 7 for an in-depth discussion of climate security at 5:30 p.m. at the Coral Gables Museum.
This is an issue with profound national and local implications, and it merits our serious thought, discussion and action. It will largely define our shared future.
Vice Admiral Lee Gunn, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a board member of the American Security Project.