Having grown up on the small island of Puerto Rico, I’ve always had a special connection to the sea. However, it’s unfortunate that the consequences of climate change will soon begin to connect us with this majestic powerful mass in new, less tranquil ways. You see, when we talk about sea level rise in the United States; the warnings seem to come with an extra sense of urgency when your home is located both off the coast and not much above sea level.
I grew up outside of San Juan, Puerto Rico and moved to Miami, Florida to attend college. As a Hispanic of Cuban descent, I feel right at home in Miami! Yet, I often run across folks that don’t know that Puerto Ricans are natural born US citizens. I do my part to politely inform and educate them. Puerto Ricans are proud Americans who serve our nation, fight in our wars, pledge allegiance to the same flag, share the same national anthem and share a sincere sense of admiration and pride in being born in arguably the greatest nation of the world. We also often look across the Caribbean to our fellow Americans for inspiration, guidance, solidarity, and know instinctively; by working together, we can accomplish much more than we could achieve alone.
Over the last decade, I’ve taken a keen interest in the similarities of the environment, economy and people of my new home and my birthplace. Both rely on serene beaches, beautiful oceans and a natural beauty for their economic security. Both have significant development and critical infrastructure on their coastlines. Both stand to lose a lot from climate change impacts – especially sea level rise. In south Florida, where impacts are already being felt, I’ve been moved by the desire to find solutions to the climate change challenge.
That’s where the story begins … in the curiosity and passionate heart of a young political scientist determined to secure the future for not just Florida, but to take solutions back to Puerto Rico and other coastal regions across the US that will be impacted by sea-level rise. Surely the large Sunshine State is a model for charting a course for cleaner energy future, right? Just imagine how many more solar panels you can fit into Florida compared to Puerto Rico (nearly half the size of Connecticut, less than 1/18th the size of Florida), my intrigue was peaked! How could I apply Florida’s lessons and solutions in promoting common sense policies to address climate change and increase economic development opportunities from clean energy to Puerto Rico? After all, we often look to our mainland neighbor for policy solutions to our common challenges.
As I dug through the evidence, the results were stunning. In fact, it was Puerto Rico that’s well on its way to addressing the climate change challenge with clean energy solutions. No such initiative was evident in Florida.
Stay tuned … In a follow-up blog, we’ll answer the two questions which immediately and naturally followed by my research. How and why? How was it possible that with so much at stake and in common with the small island of Puerto Rico that Florida is left stagnant in Puerto Rico’s wake as it forges ahead? Why is Florida stuck on the sidelines of the clean energy future? What can we learn from Puerto Rican policies?