Human Impacts Miami, Moving Forward on Climate

In 2013-2014 the Human Impacts Institute is partnering with the Transatlantic Climate Bridge Program of Germany to explore how we can make climate change personal to our communities and re-communicate climate issues to the American public in creative and engaging ways through our “Creative Climate” Human Impacts Salons series. Working with local partners in eight U.S. cities and in Berlin, this year-long tour bring together creative visionaries with community leaders, environmental experts, and activists in a salon-style event of performance and in-depth discussion to highlight local action, resources, and solutions to addressing one of the most pressing issues of our times–climate change.

On Thursday, December 12th, over 120 Floridians packed into the Wolfsonian-FIU’s spacious interior to participate in Human Impacts Miami, the third installment of 2013’s Human Impacts Salons. A collaboration between the Transatlantic Climate Bridge of Germany and the Human Impacts Institute, the evening included a panel discussion, networking opportunity, and community Q-and-A on how we “thrive on the frontlines of climate change.” Located only meters away from Miami’s pristine beaches and at exactly zero feet above sea level, Human Impacts Miami attendees truly had front row seats to both the climate outside and climate discussion taking place inside the Wolfsonian’s doors. Watch the teaser video here>>

The presentation kicked off with Climate Central’s local exposé on the most pressing climate issue Miami is currently facing: sea level rise. Moderator Tara DePorte, the Human Impacts Institute’s Executive Director and Founder, initiated discussion by asking panelists to personally respond and share their impressions of how we emotionally and psychologically cope with climate change.

As part of the participants’ response, Natasha Tsakos screened her performance of “Climax,” her one-woman, hard-hitting performance piece that inspired an outpouring of climate-driven emotion from audience members and panelists alike. Echoing Tsakos’ performance, audience members yelled-out as DePorte initiated a call-and-response, “How do we feel about climate change?” answering, “We’re mad as hell!”


Anger is certainly one emotion that locals identify with as many Miamians spoke to the disconnect between locals’ concerns and developers, as well as politicians, actions. One of the diverse event panelists, Dr. Jessica Bolson, Post Doctoral Fellow, Risk Management and Decision Processes Center, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, spoke to the differences between “rational” and “emotional” responses in our lives. She noted that dealing with issues of climate change can often be more difficult for people to process as there is both an overload of the senses for those repeatedly affected by hurricanes and other storms, as well as the broader issues of “climate change” or even sea level rise can seem so large or intangible that it’s hard for us to process into concrete, personal action.

Xavier Cortada, Artist-in-Residence, Florida International University College of Architecture + The Arts, went on to highlight the importance of the cultural and natural history of South Florida, that has been drastically altered by man as soon as Ponce de Leon set foot on the region in the 16th century. As he highlighted his work on bringing community members deeper in touch with the native flora of the region through the replanting of mangroves, he also spoke emotionally of the rich diversity of people in the Miami area who care about their community and the local impacts of climate change. Adding to the historical perspective of Cortada’s remarks, Dr. Hugh Gladwin, Department of Global and Sociocultural Studies at Florida International University, showed audiences 19th Century maps of South Florida, where it was evident that most of the inland regions of the state were marshlands before intensive engineering projects drained the lands. Gladwin, a former member of the Miami-Dade Climate Change Advisory Task Force made this stark comparison to highlight another point: that these severe changes to Florida’s topography have endangered critical water resources in the Everglades. Due to the geological makeup of the region, as well as the encroaching development, sea level rise threatens to bring salt water intrusion to the freshwater resources of millions of people living in the region, as well as farmlands, natural areas, and other animals dependent upon water supplies.


Gladwin’s comments on the threat of sea level rise shifted conversation to local concerns and the question of government response. Jason Tapia, Principal/Lead Designer, Building 3 Design and Maggie Fernandez, President, Sustainable Miami, spoke of examples of how new design requirements (i.e. renovations needed to raise the first levels of homes on Miami Beach) are signs of incremental government actions to protect local citizenry from sea level rise. However, as Tapia and other panelists noted, dealing with climate in a state where many elected officials, including the Governor of the State, are still considered “climate deniers”, makes a lot of local action much more difficult. Fernande noted that she had worked for many years as a public servant and has now shifted her focus to working more directly with her community to use education as a tool for spreading information about climate change, Dr. Georg Maue, First Secretary of Climate and Energy Policy, Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, shared examples of how Germany’s experience of not needing to combat “climate denial” has helped them to be able to transition more easily to renewable energy throughout the country.

Many participants came from groups already working on raising climate awareness and building up local initiatives. As feedback was overwhelmingly positive from participants, there was also a lot of discussion on how to continue the conversation beyond one night and beyond conversation. As the goal of the salons are to bring together new groups and inspire new action, the follow-up for both the Human Impacts Institute and for the groups participating in the evenings are clear: there’s a real need to shift our focus from climate talks to climate action. As we were able to see at the event, there are many groups locally working in Miami on just that, however, there’s also a need for increased resources, particularly funding, for communities to adapt to sea level rise and to plan for ways to support each other on the “front lines” of climate change. On a positive note, participants also expressed a sense of re-invigoration at participating in an event that had so many climate actors and concerned citizenry. Maggie Fernandez echoed what many in the room expressed during a break-out session and networking times, “I love Miami, and I still hope for the best future.”

This program would not have been possible without the support of our local and national partners:

  • The Transatlantic Climate Bridge Program of the German government, which aims to support platforms and partnerships that help Americans and Germans exchange their know-how and to pave the way for joint solutions;

  • Virgin Breeze who created products engineered to instantly kill smog and greenhouse gases at the surface and purify the air around it;

  • Wolfsonian-FIU uses objects to illustrate the persuasive power of art and design, to explore what it means to be modern, and to tell the story of social, political, and technological changes that have transformed our world.

  • Resilient Miami was sparked by the community members who came together to create HighWaterLine | Miami, an innovative art project that transformed scientific data into a visual that shows how climate change, with an emphasis on sea level rise, will impact Miami.

By Tess Clark, Development Manager, and Tara DePorte, Founder and Executive Director, Human Impacts Institute

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