I moved to Seattle to save Miami

I am one of Nori’s seven cofounders. We’re a startup on a mission to reverse climate change. We’re based in Seattle because it’s one of the fastest growing tech cities in the U.S. and has a deep-rooted identity in the environment. What better place is there to found a tech startup on a mission to reverse climate change?

However, I’m originally from Miami, FL, and South Florida is facing some very real problems concerning climate change. This isn’t a hypothetical “one-day things will get bad” situation. Miami is experiencing the effects of global warming and climate change today. And if residents don’t start acting now, it might just be the end of the road for South Florida as we know it. If we don’t act now, we’ll all become climate refugees in the near future. Ironic, given that so many residents are political refugees or the descendants of political refugees.

“History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes” 
- Mark Twain

Cafecito con pastelitos vs Pike Place drip coffee

While I don’t live in Miami anymore, I carry it with me in my heart every day. Seattle might be famous for great coffee, but Seattlites are missing out on the thrilling pleasure of a cafecito Cubano served with pan tostado y mantequilla. Not to mention, Starbucks pastries have NOTHING on a pastelito de guayaba or a piece of hot and airy Haitian bread that melts in your mouth. As for the fruit, juicy blackberries grow wild and rampant in the Pacific Northwest, yet they pale in comparison to sweet golden mangoes falling from trees like gifts from the gods, or cutting open a fresh and cold coconut to drink its clear, revitalizing, ethereal liquid.

Miami is a beautiful place like no other. The weather is tropical, the people are colorful, the languages are varied, and the food is flavorful. It’s an American city with thick Caribbean and Latin American roots. The number of Spanish-speaking households far outnumbers English-only households in Miami-Dade County.

Yet, Miami’s main attraction is its water. Its turquoise colored shores attract a constant flux of tourists and fuels ever increasing real estate development in an already crowded city. My childhood, like the majority of South Floridians, was spent in the water, whether it be in the pool, at the beach, on an island in Biscayne Bay, running through lawn sprinklers and hoses… it didn’t matter. Miami children enjoy endless water and endless joy.

However, its the paradise-like waters of the city that threaten its existence as we know it.

The water is coming

Miami waters are rising due to global warming and climate change. I first learned of global warming and sea level rise while in high school. At that time, it was a topic of casual conversation like “Oh, yeah scientists think this bad thing might happen”. Yet, I didn’t take it so lightly. I was confused as to why people were not freaking out and doing more about it? I remember often scolding my mother for blasting the AC in the car, saying “You’re the reason we have global warming!” My poor mother. She couldn’t escape the “insufferable”; it was either endure the scolding rantings of her environmentalist teenager or suffer the choking heat. If you’ve ever been to Miami or the Carribean, you would easily understand why she often chose the former over the latter.

Jeff Goodell’s book The Water Will Come is an outstanding and disturbing read.

Hurricanes, flooding, and shit, oh my!

At the time of writing this, Tropical Storm Gordon is making its way across the water to Florida. Floridians are used to the threat of these storms. But soon enough, the storms come, and our streets are flooded. Power is lost. Kids are kept home from school. The race to the grocery store and the lines to fill gasoline tanks get heated.

I remember the hurricane season of 2005 the most, when hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma left their mark. Wilma alone caused over $19 billion in damage in Florida. My family and I were out of power for several weeks. My teacher was displaced from his home because a tree landed right in the middle of his house, luckily missing him, his wife, and their newborn baby.

Science shows that warmer waters will lead to stronger storms. As the planet gets hotter, hurricanes will come more often and will pack a stronger punch. Not only do they damage our homes and power lines, but they result in massive flooding. And as if they weren’t high enough, flood insurance prices will rise as we see higher risks of storms.

Not only should you have good flood insurance, I hope you have good health insurance because floods can lead to a massive health epidemic. In Miami Dade County, 20% of people rely on septic tanks, and an estimated 40% of those aren’t functioning properly. When the flood waters come, they can carry with them the leachate from these poorly functioning septic tanks. This means that when you’re wading through the knee-high flood waters in your neighborhood after a storm, you’re literally in water that is full of shit. Pro-tip: wear waterproof shoes like high rainboots and don’t expose any open cut to flood water.

Hurricane cause major flooding in South Florida photo by Maxstrz via Flickr CC

It’s not just hurricanes

You don’t have to wait for a storm or hurricane to flood the streets, because the tides will come. The rate of melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are already causing sea-level rise that combined with high tides can and will flood the streets of Miami. In the image below, taken from a video made by Climate Progress, I can clearly see that my neighborhood will be below sea level at high tide.

Projected flooding in Miami due to high tides — Video credit Climate Progress

From political refugees to climate refugees

Here’s the kicker: not only is my house (my mother’s house) in this area but so too is my grandparents’ house. My abuelos live three doors down the street. Growing up, I had dinner there every night with my cousins and brother while our parents worked at the family business. Seeing this image doesn’t just sadden me, it enrages me. My grandparents are political refugees from Cuba and moved to Miami to escape from the oppressive government taking shape under Fidel Castro’s control. Now, they might just become climate refugees, if they live long enough. 
I’ve explained to my grandparents the very real possibility that their property will experience ever more frequent flooding. I’ve urged them to put their house up for sale (my mother has). But, they refuse. They want to live out the rest of their days in a home that they worked tirelessly to buy. A home where they helped co-raise their eight grandchildren, hosting birthday and holiday parties for the family, creating decades of memories within its walls.

The scary reality is that Miami is filled with political refugees like my grandparents. When the waters come to swallow Miami whole, Cuban and Haitian refugees alike are likely to see a haunting reality of becoming refugees again, this time due to climate, not politics.

Miami: the real Atlantis

If nothing is done, Miami might just become the new Atlantis. It’s streets, homes, and buildings will be covered in water, and the culture and lifestyle that is so unique to the place will drown in its own refusal to acknowledge that the water is coming. And it breaks my heart.

Unfortunately, the unique culture that I’d like to see saved comes with some unique traits that might be the doom of Miami. The economy thrives on real estate, and the ability of people to turn a profit on real estate investment three or five years from purchase. It’s a constant gamble. The tourism and paradise-style living mean overlooking the inconvenient. Whether its willful ignorance, or paralyzing fear of reality, the people of Miami have failed to demand large-scale and massive shift in the attitudes concerning climate change and sea-level rise.

Get your head out of the sand, and in the game, Miami.

There IS hope. But we need to act quickly. There are two types of action we should take: 1) adaptation and 2) adoption.

1) Adapting the city

We need to adapt our low-lying cities for rising sea-levels. This includes structural changes to new and existing infrastructure. For example, buildings could be raised several feet from their current levels, or advanced levees can be built to keep the water out (levees won’t work for Miami, but they do work for other cities like Venice, Italy). Future buildings could be made to “float”. However, the costs of many of these projects are very high, ranging from millions to billions of dollars.

Thus, the future of Miami and cities like it lies in the hands of its residents and policymakers. Residents must demand that climate change and sea-level rise be taken into account in project development and city planning. Solutions for climate change mitigation in Miami must come from the people of Miami. The culture and values of the people in Miami need to fuel any effort to do something about how the city will deal with sea-level rise.

That means, Miami needs a culture shift and needs to get its head out of the sand and make a large call to action to do something about it. For example, I’d love to see a city-wide campaign for innovative projects to address rising sea-levels. It would allow entrepreneurs and/or students from local universities such as UM and FIU to submit project proposals and work closely with city engineers to come up with actionable projects and a roadmap for testing and implementing these projects.

2) Adopting a new way of thinking long-term

Like the example I gave of my mother using the AC in her car to escape the heat, we are stuck in this vicious cycle that, if we don’t stop, will be the end of our home and will lead to our becoming climate refugees. If we want to break this cycle, we need to do something about our long-term impact on climate change. In other words, we need to do something about our emissions.

We need to look at our impact on climate change honestly, and clean up after ourselves. Our company, Nori, is working towards providing a way for you to easily “clean up” your emissions mess. We’re like an Uber platform for the garbage man to come collect your trash off of the street. You just have to know how much carbon dioxide you’re responsible for emitting, and then you can use our platform to make sure that the same amount is removed from the atmosphere on your behalf.

We’re still under development, so you can’t use it just yet to do what I described. However, we are actively engaging people in conversation. There are a few ways that you can get involved.

  1. You can invest in our campaign to reverse climate change here.
  2. Please share this post to spread awareness of the problem and how Nori can help, particularly if you live in South Florida.

2. You can listen to our podcast: Reversing Climate Change.

3. You can subscribe to our newsletter to be notified when the platform launches and how you can use it to offset your emissions. Businesses and individuals alike can participate.

From all of us at Nori, thank you for reading and for sharing.

Nori Founders from left to right: Alexsandra Guerra, Christophe Jospe, Ross Kenyon, Jaycen Horton, Aldyen Donnelly, Paul Gambill, Paul Carduner, Mr. Blue