By Alex Fleming and Eric Feldman
Last week, FIU’s platform in Washington, D.C. hosted two national virtual conversations to identify priorities and solutions the federal government should consider when it comes to environmental policy. The findings will be packaged in a report and sent to the administration for consideration in advance of the White House’s Leaders’ Climate Summit happening on April 22.
On April 6, key stakeholders—ranging from congressional staffers, federal agency officials and other top university researchers from around the country—participated in "Salient Solutions: Building Resilient Coastal Communities" hosted by Todd Crowl, director of FIU’s Institute of Environment. The group discussed water as both a stressor and a resource and how to build resilient infrastructure and communities.
“Water is life. There is a broader context within which we work. We may look at the built and human environment but without a healthy natural environment, there is no built or human environment. It is the basis on which we proceed, and we start with that,” said Richard Olson, director of FIU’s Extreme Events Institute.
During the event, the audience was asked a series of poll questions to further explore how communities can tackle disaster mitigation and build resilient coastal communities. The theme of the responses—better data, records, resource allocation, community communication and education.
“Communities are starved for information on threats and are interested in understanding the types of stressors but also want to know the direct risks their communities face,” said Lucinda Johnson, associate director and water team lead at the University Minnesota.
Carrie McDougal, senior program manager at NOAA also said: “We need to build public support regarding these issues and build robust public engagement efforts. Most communities do not have the resources to provide sufficient engagement and education to understand the risks they are facing."
Mario Loyola, director of FIU’s Environmental Finance and Risk Management Program, started the conversation. "We want to be able to apply financial and mathematical models to get a precise picture of what the environmental data is actually telling us," he said. "Reports warn that insurance may rise in the years ahead but by how much should they rise?”
Jerry Theodoru, director of finance, insurance and trade at R Street Institute warned: “We don’t want to be overpriced, and we don’t want to be underpriced. For a market-based approach, we need to be right priced."
Theodoru concluded that good historical loss data was key for insurers to provide accurate pricing in the future.
Students explore solutions and career paths in environmental resilience, finance and national security
In attendance at the two virtual dialogues were 19 FIU students who were participating in a broader, three-day virtual fly-In seminar titled "The Future of Environmental Resilience for Economic Growth and National Security."
The seminar, in partnership with Campus Life, was an active experience for students seeking career opportunities in the space; each panel discussion featuring representatives of think tanks, advocacy organizations, as well as researchers and lobbyists was moderated by a student-participant who introduced the panel, guided conversation and called on their peers to ask questions.
"The diversity of speakers and subjects this first day was very mentally stimulating and inspirational," said Kristin Briggs, a biology doctoral student. "I also appreciated that they spoke in very practical, actionable terms, each of them seemed to cut right to the issues and provided us with direct advice and valuable insight."
The first two days featured the Center for Climate and Security, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, and GreenLatinos, and government affairs leaders from Nestle and Bayer Crop Science (formerly Monsanto), for which the students had questions on sustainability and labor practices.
"It was really interesting to see lobbyists at work. I had only heard about them in my classes,” said Chirine Yamout, an international relations and Chinese studies student.
This led to a policy hack—where the students, in three groups given just two hours, developed policy proposals that were presented to the offices of U.S. Representatives Maria Elvira Salazar (FL-27), whose district includes key coastline along the Biscayne Bay where FIU leads water quality monitoring efforts, and Kathy Castor (FL-14), who chairs the House of Representatives Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.
"As a freshman with minimal comfort in public speaking, formulating a presentation for the policy hack and advocating for FIU Capitol Hill in a short time frame was definitely not something I could have ever imagined myself to be capable of doing," said Amanda Di Perna, a marine biology student. "It was an incredibly enriching experience to step out of my comfort zone and take a chance at participating in these opportunities, and once again I am forever thankful to have received them."
FIU in Washington, D.C., is an integrated advocacy approach aimed at increasing FIU’s national reputation and federal support for FIU’s preeminent and emerging preeminent programs, faculty and students. The FIU in DC team collaborates with academic units to provide learning experiences and support the placement of students and alumni in internships and permanent employment.