In Fort Lauderdale, Assistant City Manager Susanne Torriente is working to get her city government prepared for rising sea levels -- and for good reason: Depending on what happens on worldwide climate action, 48 percent of South Florida could end up submerged.
Luckily, Torriente has experience weathering storms. In 2009, County Mayor Carlos Alvarez appointed the 20-year Miami-Dade County employee as sustainability director. Alvarez was the rare Republican who was very supportive of sustainability, says Torriente.
Two years later, the political climate changed. Upset over staff pay increases, property tax hikes, and a new stadium, local billionaire Norman Braman led a wildly successful recall effort against Alvarez and flooded the recall with $1 million of his personal money. “At the end of the day, Alvarez got caught up in an anti-government, anti-tax frenzy from a very conservative community,” Torriente says. After the recall, she decided to cut her losses and move on.
For a little over a year, Torriente has been restructuring and refocusing Fort Lauderdale government. "How do we look at what we do, and in light of what we know [about climate change], how do we need to start doing our jobs differently?" she asks. I talked to Torriente for Knope and change, our series on the women working to green, and in this case, save our cities. Here’s our edited conversation on talking climate in a politically polarized state.
Q. Fort Lauderdale has been called the Venice of America -- and in fact, Venice is your sister city. Venice is currently experiencing historic floods.
A. We have 300 miles of canal coastline and 52 bridges in the city alone in 33 square miles. We’re all about the water here. Two or three weeks ago, we had Hurricane Sandy going through the Bahamas and the tail end of that was coupled with our full moon high tide. We experienced major tidal flooding in the city of Fort Lauderdale.
Q. Does your community seem concerned about climate change?