Before the Flood, South Florida Native Quietly Plans Exit Strategy

I spoke with my friend Robin this week. Robin lives in Miami Shores, a mostly upper-middle class neighborhood located in Miami Dade county. It’s near the causeway that takes you to the beach. Robin was born on Miami Beach, so she’s a South Florida native.

On our call, Robin recounted a conversation she recently had with a friend who lives on Miami Beach. Both had seen Leonardo DiCaprio’s Before the Flood documentary on the National Geographic channel.

A central focus of this documentary was sea level rise and the impact it will have on Miami in the coming decades. The documentary had scared Robin and her friend enough to start thinking about selling their homes and moving to higher ground. For Robin, that higher ground was in Asheville, NC. She told me her home was paid for, and should the real estate market crash due to a mass exodus caused by sea level rise, she could lose the half million dollars her home was currently worth. She didn’t want to be a climate refugee. Robin wanted to know my opinion.

I’d also lived most of my life in South Florida. Although I’d been talking about leaving for much longer, I finally sold my home and made my exodus five years before. Due to rapid population growth and limited natural resources, South Florida is a textbook example of overshoot and what I saw as an inevitable collapse–hastened on by climate change and the already rising sea. And to add the cherry on top of the feeling of impending doom, the geology of South Florida being a porous limestone, makes the coastline indefensible. You can build a sea wall, but the water will still rise up from the ground beneath your feet.

I shared my thoughts with Robin. Across history, sea level rise has been non-linear. Climate impacts have been mostly worse than predicted; feedback loops could amplify these even further. And far before they have an epic flood in their front yards, Robin and her neighbors will have other problems to contend with that will make the southern end of Florida unpleasant to inhabit.

One that should be of concern was salt water intrusion into the drinking water aquifer. You can’t drink salt water. Desalinization is both costly and energy intensive, and probably not feasible to do on such a large scale. Another to consider was the sewer. When I lived in Broward, the number floated around the county climate change task force was 18 inches of sea level rise to inundate the sewer system.

So, in my opinion, Robin was reasonable to start contemplating that her real estate investment (now still a hot commodity) might decline in her lifetime. Yes, I agreed with her. Start downsizing, get the house on the market, and get the exit plan in place now while she was still in control. Robin wasn’t wasting any time. She intended to complete her move in 2017. I’m sure she’s not alone.

And although Robin’s situation is not unique, she is fortunate in that she has resources that allow her to proactively move to higher ground. Around the world, many people will not have that opportunity. We are likely to see massive migrations of climate refugees this century.

And just thinking about that scenario is both tragic and overwhelming. We are past the time to get a price on carbon that will allow us to transition to a new energy economy. But as they say, better late than never.





My Grandfather was a Coal Miner

My grandfather was a coal miner. He was also an American immigrant from southern Italy. As a US citizen, he served in the US Army. He was very proud to be able to participate in democracy. My mother remembers her dad putting on his best suit and walking for miles to cast his vote.

Back in his mountain origin of Bocchigliero, he was a contadino; a peasant farmer. Like so many others, he came to America to pursue a dream– a better life for himself and his family. Once he whispered to his young bride, my grandmother, “Filomena, in America the roads are paved with gold.”   scarnato-young-sam-version-2

My grandfather spoke out for better conditions for the men who worked alongside him in the coal mine. As you can imagine, in the absence of modern day laws, laboring in a coal mine in the early-to-mid 20th century wasn’t a pleasant or healthy experience.

During times when I was unhappy in my own job, my thoughts would inevitably go to my grandfather. Although he had died before I was born, his story was memorable. I’d say to myself, “if he could go down into a coal mine everyday, then you can do this.” That definitely put my white-collar employment woes into perspective.

Believing in the American dream, my grandfather knew that the ticket to a better future was to work hard and focus his children on education. You might say he sacrificed himself-as an immigrant with no formal education but a strong work ethic-so that his children could get educated and have a better life. And they did.

Health related disease like black lung and the perils of mining accidents still loom large for coal miners worldwide. Negative externalities for the larger society are also pronounced; increased asthma rates, acid rain, and the perpetual elephant in the room–climate change.

But there is another human dimension that is often overlooked. Propping up a fossil industry in decline, creates a stale state where people are always looking down and under valuing their human potential. Someone looking down will never look up to advance their education and upgrade their employment skills to join a new renewable energy economy.

Let’s give today’s coal miners access to the tools they need to enter the 21st century economy with good paying clean energy jobs. Politicians need to quit using these coal miners as pawns to bolster an industry in it’s last death spiral. The quicker we make efforts to move forward, the sooner the American dream can be realized by all.



Courtesy of: Visual Capitalist



















A Fool with a Plan Will Go Farther Than a Genius with No Plan

“A fool with a plan will go farther than a genius with no plan.”

It was late 2008 and everyone in the room laughed as billionaire T. Boone Pickens retold this story from his college years. His father was concerned with Boone’s lack of direction in choosing a major. Dad came to visit his son and said;

“Listen son, a fool with a plan can beat a genius with no plan. And your mother and I have a concern that we have a fool with no plan. So you’re getting ready to get a plan and get out of school and that’s it.”

At the time I saw him, Pickens was promoting his energy plan, which involved alternative energies- like wind and solar- and large scale use of LNG as a transport fuel to reduce America’s dependence on fossil fuels. A self-proclaimed “environmentalist“, the Texas billionaire thought that Obama was the man with the plan.

Flash forward two Obama Administrations, and although use of renewable energy has been on the rise globally, and the Administration created a Clean Power Plan that set targets for states (now stayed by the Supreme Court pending judicial review); a large part of the Obama plan was let’s use all-of-the-above energy to meet our needs.

13227755_10153585850135808_7322232879040725686_oAs our climate spirals out of control, it’s obvious now more than ever that we need a plan. Enter the Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL). (They’re no fools!) They have a plan and it’s one that conservatives and progressives and everyone in between, including those without labels, can agree on.

It’s called carbon fee and dividend. And here is how it works:

  • Place a steadily rising fee on fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas).
  • Give all of the revenue from the carbon fee back to households.
  • Use a border adjustment to discourage business relocation.
  • It’s good for the economy AND even better for the climate.

With 332 chapters (and growing!) around the globe, CCL members are creating change with their solution to how to effectively price carbon in the market. Families live within a household budget; it’s time to put a price on carbon so that we can live within our global carbon budget.

Soon, over 800 CCL members will descend on Washington DC for both their international conference and to lobby on Capitol Hill. The Conference runs from June 19-21st and is both inspiring and solution-oriented.

“With your help,” Gandhi responded to General Smuts, as Smuts inquired how he intended to prevail in South Africa. It’s part of CCL’s creation story and strategy for success. And, it’s just as relevant today as it was in Gandhi’s time.

You can take part in a few ways.


The Anthropocene and the Fierce Urgency of Now

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”– Martin Luther King Jr.

pieterz / Pixabay


I’m horrified when I read about the annihilation of entire species. I can’t steel myself against our Anthropocene and the sixth great mass extinction we are currently experiencing on the planet. I wonder how other people can.  I read this story in the Washington Post, In pitiful animal die-offs across the globe — from antelopes to bees to seabirds — climate change may be culprit and it terrified me.

And I wonder how the collective we can have time for everything else except the elephant sitting beside us in the room.

We blame it on elected officials who have their hands in the pockets of big oil and say they must feel pretty lonely. But is calling them out action? We blame our municipalities for not putting in proper mass transit or recycling programs as if those we elect to serve are somehow going to do this without our political pressure.

And still the average person drives to work, shuffles their kids to music or soccer practice, volunteers at bake sales, and sits on their yoga mat. All while the problems get larger; species drop off in record numbers, more people die, the methane is still leaking, it no longer pays to recycle plastic.

“That’s awful,” then return to eating dinner or sitting on their mat. “I wish someone would do something about that.” And the world around them continues to fly off the rails.”Hmm, the price of oil has been really low for a while now, let’s go buy an SUV.”

But, truth be told, you won’t be able to meditate this away. Gandhi didn’t just sit on a mat. Leadership comes from within. What happens to the oceans is happening to you. The oceans are you. So are the trees and the antelope. When an entire species is extinguished we all languish.

And we don’t live in a time we can expect someone else fix this or being a nice person is enough. Get connected- get empowered – start working for a better world. You won’t get it unless you create it.

Here are some places to get you started:

Citizens Climate Lobby – create the political will for a livable world.

Climate Reality Project – become a leader.


It’s About Saving Ourselves

change“There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.” Victor Hugo

Lately, people have been emphasizing that the climate movement is really about saving ourselves.

Yes, I agree the problem is with humanity; it’s a crisis of consciousness and how we relate to the interdependent web of life. Its symptoms include fossil fuel addiction and unsustainable consumption and too much stuff. And the system needs changed and so do we.

But, this isn’t a plug and play change. We can’t just plug in solar panels or bring more wind farms online to replace fossil fuel generation.

We need to rediscover the interconnectedness of everything in our world. And we need to return to the understanding we are intricately part of that web of connectivity. Separation is an illusion. Your powerlessness is a grand illusion.

As I heard Al Gore once say, “we need to disenthrall ourselves from our illusory view of reality.”

We need to smile and get to know our neighbors. We need to open our hearts more than what feels safe. We need to reach across the table to people with different ideas and opinions to discover what we have in common and embrace our mutual humanity.

And then we must translate all this into collective action.

Happy New Year World.


“To change our realities, we have to change our myths.” Riane Eisler


Everything is Coming Together, As It All Falls Apart

If I had a theme for 2015, it would be movement building. 2015 was the year the Pope put climate front and center in his Encyclical, Laudato Si. Then he took his show on the road in America; visiting first the White House and then Congress.

“Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation. When it comes to the care of our “common home”, we are living at a critical moment of history. We still have time to make the changes needed to bring about “a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change” (Laudato Si’, 13). Such change demands on our part a serious and responsible recognition not only of the kind of world we may be leaving to our children, but also to the millions of people living under a system which has overlooked them. Our common home has been part of this group of the excluded which cries out to heaven and which today powerfully strikes our homes, our cities and our societies. To use a telling phrase of the Reverend Martin Luther King, we can say that we have defaulted on a promissory note and now is the time to honor it.”

2015 was the year we saw 12 Republican Members of Congress break ranks and call for action on climate change.

I mentored at the Climate Reality Leadership training in Miami in September. This was one of several trainings that the Climate Reality Project hosted in 2015. Over 1200 people from 86 countries came together to create a united force for people working to create the paradigm shift we need for a sustainable future.

Climate Leaders in Miami

The Canadian election in October shifted the course of that country’s climate change policy for the better.

In December, the Paris Accord at the UNFCCC COP21 was signed by representatives from 195 countries with a target to limit temperature rise to 1.5˚C. This came with no plan how to get to the target, but it was largely touted as a success for this inclusion.

A pretty good year, if we don’t take into account the climate disruption that is coming on much faster than originally predicted. 2015 was the hottest year on record; exceeding 2014’s brief tenure there. We’ve got rain at the north pole in the dead of winter, record heat across the eastern seaboard, and overall wicked weather. And we’ve only warmed the earth 1˚C to date.

Miami and Miami Beach, regularly flooding now, will probably be loss leaders for the movement. It seems logical that the area’s the inevitable fate will be surrender and retreat, even though valiant efforts to adapt by pumping the sea water back into the ocean are currently in full force.

The Republican presidential candidates seem to have missed the memo from their Congressional colleagues. Ted Cruz called climate change,“the perfect pseudoscientific theory for a big-government politician who wants more power.”

If you look at the science, it’s hard not to be depressed. We ponder if we’ve already passed irreversible climatic thresholds, but we haven’t hit a tipping point in our political will to create a livable future. Indeed Pope Francis said we were at “the limits of suicide” in advance of the COP21.

We keep doing the work to create a system change because we are close to the shift. In fact, as the shift is already happening, the voices for the status quo get louder.

How long will this shift take? As Mr. Gore noted at our recent training, quoting Martin Luther King Jr, Not long because no lie can live forever.”

How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

And, I’ll add the shift will happen a lot faster, with your help. This is an all hands-on deck moment in human history.

Check out the resources under climate action on this page and get involved with these two groups: Climate Reality Project and Citizens’ Climate Lobby.



From Humanity to World Leaders at COP21

So, the dust has settled after the UNFCCC COP21. And the pundits have called it a total disaster and also a success; the best possible agreement we could expect. The COP process with the INDCs brought all the players to the table with something to give. Of course, not enough to save us, but much better than the business-as-usual scenario. The number 1.5˚C even got inserted into the text, without a plan to get there, but that also was considered part of the success.

There is hope that this is a message that the fossil fuel era is over. However, many countries and fossil fuel companies seemed to fail to get the memo. That story, To Be Continued at another time….

Here, I wanted to revisit some very profound video messages from humanity to world leaders at the Paris talks. These are real, heartfelt and express the urgency for which we need to take action. I’m sharing them post pundit analysis of all the good news and insanity which came to be as the COP21 Paris Agreement.

We need to act as if what we do matters and has consequences, because it does. And, when collectively we get that memo, change will follow. The shift has already begun. We just need to ramp it up in real time.

Abdul Muqeet, a 14 year-old, also known as the Paper Bag Boy, who’s done over 170 international workshops to raise awareness of our need to act on climate.

Students from nine schools across five continents deliver their message to world leaders at COP21.

A message from the front lines of climate disruption.

Marshall Islands’ poet, Kathy Jetnil-Kiljiner perform at the ArtCOP21 launch at St Pancras Station; ‘Dear Matafele Peinem’, a poem she wrote for her daughter inspired by the effects of climate change.

A message from Earth’s astronauts.

Hooray for LED Lights!!

Browsing the lighting aisle in Home Depot about a month ago, I uncovered an exciting new light bulb. Well, not new, LED (light emitting diode) technology has been around more than 50 years, and three scientists where just honored with the Nobel Prize in Physics for their development of the blue LED technology in 1993. (The blue was needed the create white light and that was an enormous breakthrough.) What was so exciting about my trip through the lighting aisle was the price point- a two pack  of  40w replacement LEDs for $10.97.

While CFLs are more efficient than the old incandescent technology, and have provided a bridge technology, the  breakthroughs of LEDs will hopefully soon render them obsolete.

Here are some reasons why LEDs are a better investment than CFLs.

Non-toxic: Unlike CFLs, LEDs don’t contain mercury, so they don’t need to be recycled.

Long-lasting and less waste: LEDs can work for 100,000 hours, that’s around 20 years and that reduces waste and the need to buy new light bulbs and throw away old ones. That’s about ten times longer than CFL bulbs and 100 times the life-span of incandescent lights.

Energy efficient: The 40w replacement LEDs I purchased uses 6w of energy. The 60w replacements use 10w of energy. I found that replacing four 15w CFLs with four 6w LEDs- daylight, I got a better lighting effect.

Cost-effective: My new 10w (60w equivalent) LEDs estimate they cost about $1.20 a year  to run.

Cool: LEDs emit about 3.4 btu’s an hour. Compare that to 85 btu’s for incandescent and 30 btu’s for CFLs. That means that the energy used to light the bulb doesn’t escape and heat the room, reducing air conditioning costs.

Choices: Soft white, bright light, daylight, dimmable- you choose.

Instant On: No more waiting for those CFLs to heat up.

It’s been said that by switching over to LEDs, the US could reduce it’s total energy consumption 20%.

So what are you waiting for?? Make the switch to LEDs today!!

Happy New Year Resolutions

Well, happy new year…we are just out of the gate into 2014 and here we are with again mega extreme weather.  We’ve already had a  North American deep freeze, and record highs with  100,000 bats falling from the sky in Australia. No single weather event can be attributed to climate change, but as Al Gore says, “if you see a turtle on a fencepost, you can be pretty sure it didn’t get there by itself.” Last year tied a global record for most money spent on disasters; $40 billion.

The Polar Vortex Explained in 2 Minutes
The Polar Vortex Explained in 2 Minutes

When you view the big picture, it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed. But at the grassroots level there is reason to feel that we are more connected than ever. Here are three reasons that I feel our energy is building.

Every time the Climate Reality Project has a new leadership training, I meet so many new and wonderful people who are organizing in their communities. These are people from all parts of the globe who are joining together to create a better world.

About a year and a half ago, my friend Doug, adopted Rex Tillerson of Exxon Mobil as a pen pal. Doug’s trying to help Rex embrace his humanity, retire the refineries, and to be a vocal advocate of a revenue-neutral carbon tax. Doug has now written a two volume book, A Scout Is Brave, compiling all his letters. Over the holidays, Doug camped out at the gate of Exxon Mobil’s Texas office with a sign, asking Rex to have coffee with him and to discuss the proposals. While Doug’s efforts haven’t yet produced a meeting with Rex, we think that they have caught Tillerson’s attention…If not, there is always Plan B.

Our group, CCL, is growing exponentially. We’re working on having a member in every Congressional district in the US. This past year, we’ve added groups in Bangladesh and Sweden. We have close to 200 groups in various stages of development. It sure feels like momentum is building.

How does all this relate to your new year’s resolutions? CCL has made me a better person. Since we are all volunteers, it has really forced me to dig deep and evaluate my priorities to create time for my activism, where there wasn’t any before. Everyone with a serious volunteer commitment can attest to that, I am sure: we make time for what matters most. Sometimes I imagine how much closer we would be to paradigm shift in climate policy if I had 3 more Pauls or I could clone Barbara, or we had another John, Chrysa, or Dick. You get the idea.

When you are contemplating your priorities this year, commit to to something big. The world needs big commitments right now. If you are wondering what you can do in the climate arena, please come to a CCL meeting or email us at

‘If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.’ To solve the climate crisis, we have to go far. Quickly.”- Al Gore

Upcoming Dates
CCL Letter writing Group Meets
Thurs Jan 16
6-7 PM

Come with an idea or discuss topics with fellow letter writers. All the letters that came out of our last meeting got published. Add yours to the list. At Chrysa’s house; email for directions and to RSVP.

Join our Intro Call

Want to learn more about Citizens Climate Lobby and how you can help create the political will for climate solutions? Register for one of our weekly introductory calls– Wednesdays at 6 PM Mountain Time.

Renewable Energy Day at the Roundhouse
Saturday, Jan 25

Family-friendly event celebrating the economic, environmental and social benefits of renewable energy and energy efficiency.

The World Bank’s First Massive Open Online
Course (MOOC) on climate change
Starts January 27th

This  course presents recent scientific evidence as well as opportunities for urgent action on climate change. It is offered in two tracks: one for the general public and a second for policy makers and practitioners. The course runs for four weeks, and is free of charge. Participants have access to the material presented for approximately six months after the course ends. Sign up for the first session here. It’s free.

Hear a replay of CCL’s January Conference Call with Adele Morris of the Brookings Institution- HERE.

Register now for June’s CCL Conference in Washington DC- Here.

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