Florida Youth Activist Urges Industry to Step Up Fight Against Climate Change

By | June 2, 2017

Seventeen-year-old climate activist Delaney Reynolds has a message for the insurance industry on the topic of climate change: It’s time to step up and take action against this global crisis.

“Your future customers understand that we have a problem, and they want to talk about solutions,” the recent high school graduate and daughter of insurance agent parents told an audience of industry professionals at an event last month in St. Petersburg, Fla. “They are profoundly worried about what’s happening where they live.”

Delaney has been passionately involved in the fight against climate change from a young age. She has turned her passion into a mission of educating young people through the Sink or Swim Project, which she started at just 14 years old. She now speaks with kids worldwide about what is happening because of climate change and what they can do to help, and she said the message is getting through to the next generation.

“Today’s children will demand and expect our political leaders take the topic of global warming and make it a priority,” Delaney told the audience at the Florida Association for Insurance Reform’s annual industry conference on “Insuring Uninsured Risk: Flood, Sea Level Rise and Natural Catastrophes,” held on May 24. “We don’t have to be scientists to understand that this problem threatens my future and my children’s future.”

Especially high tide events – referred to as king tides – are causing homes in South Florida to be inundated with sea water in what is known as “sunny day flooding.” Rising seas are leading to these non-weather related flood events, which scientists say will only increase in frequency because of global warming. Photo Credit: www.cleoinstitute.org; courtesy of Delaney Reynolds

Talking to insurance professionals is nothing new for Delaney. The daughter of a Florida insurance agency owner, she has grown up with a direct connection to the industry. Her father, Robert Reynolds, is a third generation Floridian and agency owner. His grandfather started in the business in 1910 and Reynolds and his wife now run Morris & Reynolds Insurance in Miami.

In introducing his daughter, Reynolds said he has seen firsthand as an agent the devastation that comes from natural disasters and the impact they have on people’s lives. Having lived in South Florida his whole life, he is greatly concerned with the climate changes he’s seen in the state, including rising sea levels and more severe and frequent storms.

“The business of insurance looks much different when you can see and hear and taste disaster right in front of your face,” Reynolds told attendees. “I wonder and I worry whether or not my community will exist at the end of my children’s lives, or their children and grandchildren.”

His daughter, Delaney, has already embarked on a path outside of insurance. She is set to start college next year at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, but she already boasts an impressive resume as a climate activist which, in addition to her educational work, also includes:

  • Authoring and illustrating three children’s books, as well as a comic book on environmental and ecology topics. Her most recent is called “Where Did All the Polar Bears Go?”
  • A Youth Council Member of EarthEcho International, founded by Phillipe and Alexandra Cousteau
  • Participating in Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project training
  • Hosting a TEDxYouth Talk
The effect of “sunny day flooding” on a home in South Florida. (Photo credit: www.cleoinstitute.org; courtesy of Delaney Reynolds)

In a state with a governor who denies climate change, Delaney has had her work cut out for her. But she said she isn’t losing hope. For one, she said, science and actual evidence of sea rise are on her side.

Florida has seen a significant sea level increase over the last 30 years. Delaney said events called “sunny day flooding” – where the king tides now cause the ocean to rise up to some coastal homes – is now occurring in parts of South Florida six times per year. She said by 2030, experts predict sunny day flooding will be happening about 80 times per year.

“This is not something that has historically happened on sunny days,” she said. “[These floods are] taking place on a perfectly sunny day.”

She said what is most alarming is that experts predict that by 2045, Miami-Dade County will be subject to 380 flood events per year – with many days seeing two flood events, one from each tide.

“These are not far away days in the future [or] a new century – this is going to happen in the blink of an eye,” she told the audience. “It’s time we start to deal with the core problem before we make the problem worse.”

The Army Corp. of Engineers predicts that between now and 2045, oceans will rise at least 15 inches above current sea level, she added.

Delaney Reynolds

“In a coastal community, whether it’s here in St. Pete or in Miami or Charleston or somewhere else, 15 inches is a significant amount of saltwater, but as I said it’s only the beginning,” she said. “If those conservative predictions are correct, by the time that I am just 46 years old in 2045, there will be more than a foot of water all over our state and country’s coast; and that’s a serious problem for all of us, for each of you in your industry but also for you as individuals, as taxpayers and as concerned citizens.”

Delaney said with 70 percent of Americans living near the coast, rising sea levels are not just unique to Florida or South Florida. She said conservative projections have found more than 50 coastal communities will experience at least two dozen tidal floods per year by 2030 – but the the actual number could be much higher in some areas like Maryland or the New Jersey shore.

It’s not only the coast that is slated to feel the pain of climate change if it continues to accelerate at the current rate — farmers and growers in America’s heartland will also experience fewer crops from warmer temperatures and will have to relocate.

She said climate change and sea rise will have a direct impact on the insurance industry.

“An increase of just one foot threatens $6.4 billion in taxable real estate in Miami-Dade alone,” Delaney said. “That’s real estate that many of you and others in your industry are insuring or will be asked to insure in the future.”

Delaney said the situation is dire, but it isn’t hopeless.

“That is what the ‘Sink or Swim Project’ has become – a device to educate and engage people about what is happening and to advocate solutions as well as to offer hope that we can solve what I think is the greatest problem my generation will ever face in our lifetime,” she said.

One of her favorite solutions is solar power. She believes that every community in the country should require all new construction and renovations of existing buildings to use the maximum amount solar power possible.

Working with the South Miami Mayor Phil Stoddard, Delaney – who can’t even vote yet – has helped draft a law that would mandate solar power be installed in all new homes. The first reading of the draft ordinance was unanimously passed recently by the city council.

The insurance industry, Delaney said, is in a unique position to influence change through education and mitigation efforts. On her website, miamisearise.com, Delaney features a “Risk & Insurance” page with information and resources about how the industry can be involved, including by demanding change from political leaders and mitigation from communities to not only improve the risks it underwrites, but help to ensure that places like South Florida will be around for years to come.

“I have come to believe the insurance industry will play a significant role,” she said. “Yours is a vital industry to protecting people’s assets, as well as their dreams. … Please do not overlook the role each of you play in helping our country solve this problem.”

*Correction: This story has been updated to correct an earlier version that misstated the college Delaney Reynolds is attending. She will be attending the University of Miami in Coral Gables.

Topics Florida Flood Market Climate Change

About Amy O'Connor

O'Connor is the Southeast editor for Insurance Journal and associate editor of MyNewMarkets.com. More from Amy O'Connor

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