In South Florida, surveys routinely show that residents care deeply about having clean water and air, and unpolluted water to swim and fish in. But when it comes to perhaps the biggest environmental threat yet — climate change — it’s not the kitchen table conversation that environmentalists believe it should be.
An $8 million cash infusion by the Knight Foundation intends to change that, by funding two of the bigger environmental nonprofit in the state. The donation — $5 million to Miami Waterkeeper and $3 million to the Everglades Foundation over six years — is meant to increase awareness of the risks of climate change in Miami.
“What we hope to get out of this is a Miami that is much more engaged and much more active in discussing and defining the kinds of climate solutions that will build a resilient future,” said Raul Moas, a senior director at the Knight Foundation.
Moas called the grants a “significant and large donation” for Knight, in line with the $60 million it’s given to technology and entrepreneurial causes over the last 11 years. Along with an investment in the Aspen Climate Ideas festival in Miami Beach, it’s one of the foundation’s recent, big steps into the topic of climate change.
“We deeply believe in being catalytic investors,” Moas said. “We hope our donation is a signal to others that this is a very serious thing.”
For Miami Waterkeeper, a clean water advocacy group that pulls in about $1 million a year in fundraising, it’s a very big deal.
Rachel Silverstein, executive director of Miami Waterkeeper, said her team plans to use the grant to beef up staffing and double down on building out some of the group’s most popular tools, like its water-quality monitoring map.
“It’s giving us the capacity to reach new audiences, to tell stories and to message this issue in our community, really with the eye toward making Miami the most climate literate city in the nation,” she said. “It’s the largest single gift we have ever received.”
Silverstein said the timing of the gift aligns well with some big decisions the city will soon have to make, including what kind of coastal protection it wants from the federal government through the Back Bay project or how it will revise the series of pumps and canals that keep South Florida dry in the face of storms.
Federal — and state — money for climate solutions is flowing into South Florida, and Silverstein said this grant will help her group inform Miami residents of what’s at stake and what their options are.
“The next ten years will be make or break,” she said. “We really need to re-envision how our entire community operates, from the streets to what’s under them, to our canal system that keeps us dry. This area was not envisioned with sea level rise in mind, so we need to be rethinking everything.”
“It’s a challenge, but it’s also an opportunity to build the city of the future.”
For the Everglades Foundation, which raises about $12 million a year and is the most politically powerful and well-funded of Florida’s environmental groups, the $3 million grant will fund an executive-level position focused on technology and digital innovation.
The goal, said Meenakshi Chabba, an ecosystem and resiliency scientist with the Everglades Foundation, is to help Miami residents understand why the Everglades matters to them and why it’s worth protecting. Part of that is reminding people that a restored Everglades could be a massive help in protecting Miami from the impacts of climate change.
“Everglades restoration is a resilience project by itself, but it’s complicated,” she said. “It has layers and layers of projects and science behind it, so it’s hard to comprehend and even harder to convey.”
With a new position focused on creating understandable graphics and data visualizations, Chabba said she hopes it will be a more digestible topic for residents, many of whom don’t even know their water comes from the giant wetlands.
“We want Everglades restoration and climate resilience to become living room talks for people here in South Florida,” she said. “We’re only going to take good care of it when the community realizes how important it is.”