Last week, Miami-raised billionaire Jeff Bezos announced he was donating billions to help fight climate change.
One Miami-Dade County elected leader was quick to ask the Amazon CEO to throw some of that money South Florida’s way. It wasn’t a mayor or commissioner, it was Harvey Ruvin, Miami-Dade’s long-serving clerk of courts.
It makes sense if you know Ruvin, who has long campaigned on environmental preservation and was one of the first South Florida politicians to warn about the threat of sea-rise. Ruvin, now in his 80s, also happens to have cut a vastly underappreciated climate change rap song — at the request of no-less than movie star Robert Redford. But more on that in a moment.
Bezos, a Miami Palmetto Senior High graduate and Silver Knight award winner, hasn’t offered any details about his new fund beyond the vaguely worded Instagram post in which he announced $10 billion for “scientists, activists, NGOs — any effort that offers a real possibility to help preserve and protect the natural world.” In that post, Bezos said he’d begin issuing grants this summer.
Ruvin, who emailed Bezos with a request for some climate cash last week, hopes maybe Bezos’ South Florida roots might influence his decision.
“I just thought he is a hometown boy, he has grown up here. I’m sure he has some awareness of our vulnerability. The awareness that we’ve been out here in front for 30 years,” he said. “Maybe I could convince him. I hope I can.”
Amazon’s press center did not respond to a request for comment on the nature of the fund, whether it would cover cities and counties or if Bezos received the email.
In response to the announcement, Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, a group of Amazon workers who’ve been threatened with losing their jobs for speaking out about their company’s climate responsibilities, noted that Amazon still provides web services for oil and gas companies.
The need for a Bezos-style cash infusion in Miami-Dade is clear. The county is one of the most vulnerable in the nation to the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and rising temperatures. With two feet of sea rise, which the county is expecting by 2060, more than $6 billion in property value and 20,000 people could be at risk, according to Climate Central.
Fixing septic tanks rendered inoperable by rising groundwater could cost north of $3.3 billion; fixing county parks alone is another $175 million. The county has yet to complete a full analysis of the cost of adapting to climate change, but it’s clear that it will be high.
Ruvin said he’s meeting with James Murley, the county’s chief resilience officer, this week to come up with a list of ten projects Bezos could fund. Near the top of that list: the Army Corps of Engineers plan to potentially protect Miami-Dade from hurricanes with 10 to 13-foot walls along the coast, surge barriers across the mouths of rivers and elevating thousands of homes.
The Corps is picking up 65 percent of the estimated $8 billion price tag. “But that still leaves 35 percent of that,” Ruvin said.
A rapping climate champion
Bezos’ announcement, and the swell of attention to the issue of climate change, is great news for Ruvin, who’s been one of the county’s foremost voices on environmental issues for decades.
“It’s good to see that a voice in the wilderness can be translated to a chorus,” he said.
Ruvin’s continuous run as an elected official — and as an environmentalist — began in 1968, when he was elected Mayor of North Bay Village at 29.
He heard about some engineer building a floating city in Japan and thought it might be neat to have a floating park in his own city. So he called him and set up a meeting in New York. Their marathon 17-hour conversation led to a lifelong friendship between Ruvin and famous futurist R. Buckminster Fuller, inventor of the geodesic dome and the concept of humans as passengers on “spaceship Earth.”
Fuller, or Bucky, as Ruvin called him, said that humans alone have the ability to “foresee and forestall” all kinds of disasters, including environmental ones, and especially climate change.
“That seemed to me, at that age, to be a noble purpose for life,” Ruvin said.
Ruvin still carries that environmentalist zeal after 20 years as a Miami-Dade county commissioner and the last 30 as the county’s clerk of the courts. He led the fight for and served as chair of the county’s first Sea Level Rise Task Force, which released a slew of recommendations in 2014.
But perhaps his most inspired contribution to the movement isn’t a collection of documents and passed policies. It resides on YouTube.
More than a decade ago, he heard his then-teenage son and friends listening to rap and complained that the music didn’t take on the key social issues of the day, like Bob Dylan did.
“I asked ‘where are the rappers talking about climate change, the environment, what’s happening in our oceans?’” he said. “So they said, ‘why don’t you do it, Mr. Ruvin?”
He did. The 2:14 result, titled “Maybe just maybe” has just under 20,000 hits on YouTube and features lyrics like “with more droughts and more floods it’s like the Crips and the Bloods. More tornadoes and Cat 5s, man, people just trying to stay alive.”
Ruvin said he first performed the rap as spoken word at a meeting of the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, hosted at one of famous movie star Robert Redford’s properties in Sundance, Utah. After the applause died down, Ruvin said Redford himself slung an arm around him and said he should put it to music.
Back home, Ruvin enlisted the help of music producer Rudy Perez, whose other clients include Jennifer Lopez, Christina Aguilera, Michael Bolton and Beyoncé, and “Maybe just maybe” was born.
The song ends with a line straight out of Buckminster Fuller’s playbook. It says “maybe, just maybe, there’s a link, a link to poverty, disease and hatred too. If the world could solve climate, there’s nothing we could not do.”
“That was part of his message to me. To solve climate we’re going to have to create partnerships that were never there before,” Ruvin said. “There’s nothing more important on the planet. If we don’t take the actions we need to take. Imagine what future generations are going to think of us.”
This story was originally published March 3, 2020 6:00 AM.