We got searched again on the way out of Tallahassee. Stop, check papers, frisk, search vehicles, background check, talk to Jess while she complains about the Constitution, rinse and repeat. Don’t these agencies communicate with each other? Maybe they had nothing better to do at 7 a.m. Or maybe they wanted to be sure we didn’t leave anyone behind to cause trouble. Either way, it didn’t take long.
After our final dose of hospitality from Tallahassee authorities, we made our way to Orlando.
I’m not quite sure how to describe Orlando. The city has changed since Florence, but not in the same way as Tallahassee. Yes, there are some armored personnel carriers and occasional groups of armed troops in black body armor. But it didn’t seem as severe as Tallahassee. The whole city seemed very busy and crowded, which was not too surprising since Orlando is such a tourist destination. But then it occurred to me that only the most die-hard Disney World fans would come to Orlando for tourism during a state of emergency. Most of the extra people are actually here because Orlando is just three hours away from Miami, city beneath the waves. In a way, this city has become a major “fallback point” for people running from the rising tide — or in our case, running toward it.
There are thousands of climate refugees here. Nobody knows the exact number, but it must be at least a few thousand. Since it’s a few hours from Miami, they tend to be the ones who had the money and connections to get out of the city. When they came here, maybe they thought of it as an extended vacation — time to stay at a hotel and relax for a few weeks while they figured out their next steps. But then weeks turn into months, and they come to realize that they aren’t as wealthy as they thought. Most of their money is tied up in a house, a car, maybe even a second car that’s rusting in a few feet of seawater right now. Hotel bills add up; plans for permanent lodging fall through. Before you know it, you’re camping out in your SUV, or in your thousand dollar camping gear that was gathering dust in the closet until Florence hit.
As I saw all of those people, many of them likely homeless or not too far from it, I thought about how that could have been me. If it weren’t for Alejandra, I would have just drifted to a nearby city, looked for a new job, and probably ended up on the streets by now. It was a sobering thought.
We were greeted in Orlando by a newly formed coalition called Orlando Resilience and Resistence, or Orlando R&R for short. The coalition includes a broad spectrum of climate-related groups: Miami Diaspora, 350, Solutions Project, Rising Tide, a local group called Faith and Environment, and even a local chapter of the Green Guard. It also includes groups with more of a social justice or social service focus: Food Not Bombs, a few homeless shelters, a few church groups, a social service agency or two. They’re all working together to respond to the many complex effects that global warming is having on the city and its people.
Our main volunteer task in Orlando was helping with the homeless situation. It was a strange mix — some of them “middle class” people who got displaced from Miami and South Florida in general; some of them locals who got displaced by rising rent and unemployment; some of them just the usual mix of people who for various reasons found themselves on the streets. Harold and a few of our team members went off with the local Green Guard to learn about the security situation in Miami and help with a new housing project. The rest of us spent all day providing food, clothing, and transportation to people in need.
It was very humbling to realize that a few more people would eat and have shelter today because we were in town — and that they may not tomorrow because we would be gone.
At the end of the day, Jess, Ermete, Ten, and I had a long conversation about the situation in Orlando and our plans when we get to Miami. We went for a long walk around a lake and sat on some benches while the sun went down somewhere beyond the trees and buildings on the horizon. The conversation was very casual, but there was often an urgency to it as one or two of us would get really excited or frustrated. There were also a few points where the convesation got so serious that we just got really quiet and thought about the situation for a while.
Ten says that we’re at a strange place in a strange world.
Global warming is reaching the point where in many ways, society is starting to collapse. The economy is getting worse; people and governments are starting to panic; the ocean has claimed some outlying areas and is starting to claim major cities like Miami.
And yet we are still burning more fossil fuels as a species than we did in the 20th century.
Orlando is actually pretty good about its own emissions. There was a massive energy efficiency effort about ten or twenty years ago that reduced the carbon footprint dramatically. And since then, they’ve installed a tremendous amount of home, civic, and industrial PV solar systems. They’re a leader in the whole Southeast region of the nation for all of that. But they are still mostly the exception rather than the rule. Even as cities sink beneath the waves, fields are scorched by drought or washed out by flood, forests are lost to unchecked wildfires, and so on, we still burn fossil fuels. It boggles the mind.
Our conversation started out as a very philosophical conversation. But then it got very practical. What are we going to do in Miami? How well is it going to work? How much of an impact will it have on the local level and the big picture?
We have some ideas, otherwise we wouldn’t be coming out here. But this is all a big experiment — our trip to Miami, and humanity’s trip into a climate unlike anything we’ve ever experienced before.
Jess is a big sci-fi and cli-fi fan, so she often talks about how she wishes she could go back in time and convince everyone to take action sooner. So much difference could have been made back in that crucial time between James Hansen’s historic climate testimony in 1988 and the decades of denial and confusion that followed, all of it caused by the fossil fuel backlash.
But we can’t go back in time. People were fooled for such a long time — and even when they started realizing what was going on, they didn’t know what to do. They got caught up in personal fixes like buying the right light bulb, or fossil fuel schemes like fracking that actually made things worse, or feel-good protests and marches that didn’t really stop the historic amounts of extraction.
So now we’re left in a situation where a truly carbon neutral economy still seems so far away, yet the effects of global warming are up in our face, burning our crops and flooding our streets, making life increasingly miserable for people on the front lines while people in far away places are still making more money than they can count by burning fossil fuels.
I’m starting to sound like Jess here. She goes on a lot of rants like that. Anyway, what it all comes down to for our team is the details. We have a clear objective — go to Miami, set up a base, and build on that base in an effort to help turn Miami into a model of climate mitigation and adaptation.
Honestly, I may be ranting because I’m having trouble sleeping. This is the last night of our trip. Tomorrow, we arrive in Miami. I’m excited to be returning home; I’m curious to see how the place is doing these days; I’m excited and apprehensive about the projects we have planned and the situations we may encounter there. All in all, that leaves me more wired than a dozen cups of coffee.
But talking about it helps — talking about it with Jess and Ermete and Ten, with some of the rest of the team, with other Miami refugees, and with you, my reader. I don’t hear from my readers much, but I know you’re out there, and I’m always happy to hear from you and share the latest news with you. I hope that you enjoy reading these posts too. If you ever want to talk, you know where to find me.
It will take us all a few days to get settled in Miami. During that time, I have no idea how much or how often I’ll post. In the meantime, keep us all in your thoughts and prayers as we take that last big step and arrive at our destination.
Next stop, Miami!