Remarks by the Vice President in a Moderated Conversation on Climate in Miami Beach, Florida
MS. ESTAFAN: Thank you so much for being here. Good evening, everyone.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good evening.
MS. ESTEFAN: It's great to have you here in Miami Beach, very especially on International Women's Day. Can it get any better? (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: (Laughs.)
MS. ESTEFAN: You are a history-making Vice President, and --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: You too, sister. (Laughter.)
MS. ESTEFAN: Well, I'm only the VP at my house. Well, well. (Laughter.) That's good enough.
But you and I have had the privilege of traveling the globe, doing different things, I might add. But I've been able to experience firsthand, with my connection with people all over the world, the connectivity that we do have as human beings and for our planet. And, absolutely, we need to tackle this issue together because it is a world event.
I love that this is an important conference focusing on solutions for climate change and not just the problem itself.
I know that you and President Biden signed into law the largest investment in history to tackle climate crisis. And it is -- (applause) -- that deserves applause. Absolutely, we need an administration focused on the things that need to be fixed.
I'm a grandmother of a 10-year-old grandson. And I am particularly worried, and I feel that we absolutely need to do something to stem the tide. Pun absolutely intended here in Florida.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: We can't just drip, drip, drip on this, no.
MS. ESTEFAN: Absolutely. So how are you thinking about this moment?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: So, like you -- and I want to thank everyone here, and the Aspen Institute -- I think we all understand that we have to be solutions-driven. And the solutions are at hand.
I am, therefore, very optimistic and, frankly, a bit excited about where we are right now.
As you mentioned, Gloria -- and it's wonderful to be on stage with you. And thank you for your leadership and using your voice in so many ways on so many issues.
We have, by my rough math, with the infrastructure law, with the Inflation Reduction Act, with the CHIPS Act, we are looking thus far, in the two years of our administration, at about $1 trillion that's going to hit the streets of America on the issue of climate. (Applause.) One trillion dollars.
And so we have some -- we need to make up for some time lost, no doubt. But when we think about this, this is not incremental. This is going to have, I think, an exponential impact on where we need to go around a number of issues that are about climate adaptation and resilience.
But also, I think of it in the context of what we are doing that is about job creation, manufacturing; what we are doing that is going to be about U.S.-based manufacturing in a way that we will develop the skills and the workforce, and also be intentional about driving diversity within the workforce in a way that it's going to have a substantial impact on a new economy, which is a clean energy economy. This is so exciting.
I think of it in the context of what the resources we are putting into it right now will mean not only to the people of the United States, but around the globe, to your point.
I was just in Munich a couple of weeks ago at the Munich Security Conference. And, you know, after speaking about Ukraine and some other issues, I spoke about this issue.
What we are doing here -- and I want to give all thanks to the activists and the leaders who have been in this space, doing this work for years and years. (Applause.) Because, you know, we talk about the inside/outside game, right? It often takes that push from the folks who are outside to get, you know, the bureaucracy of government to actually move. And we're seeing it happen.
And so the global impact, then -- even when we talked about it in Europe -- is that these investments will have a number of global impacts.
One, when we think about investing in a clean energy economy and what we are doing, what we will do to, therefore, increase supply -- right? -- and what that will mean to bring down global prices. If we increase supply, it's going to bring down prices.
But the other is the investment in technology and innovation to do the work that is about clean energy, about adaptation and resilience will mean coupling with not only the government resources, but the private resources that will be spurred because of this investment in innovation and the creativity -- the natural creativity around this that will be models that will be used around the globe.
So the impact is -- is profound in terms of the number of people who will benefit.
And then, of course, there is the point that is about the bringing down costs but also clean air and clean water, and what this means in terms of something that is so precious in terms of the resources that we must protect.
MS. ESTEFAN: Absolutely. And for me particularly, when we think about clean air and electric vehicles, I'm also concerned about what are we going to do with those batteries and the things that drive the electric vehicles. And I understand that there's new technology --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Right.
MS. ESTEFAN: -- also involved with that.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That's right. And I -- I'll tell you, I'm -- I'm -- one of my themes is probably going to be "I'm just very excited." So -- (laughter) -- I am excited about electric vehicles and, in particular, electric school buses.
So -- (applause) -- I -- I've been visiting U.S. manufacturers of electric school buses.
Okay, everyone here knows this. This is so totally preaching to the choir. It's estimated that 25 million children in our country a day go to school on the school bus, and over 90 percent of the school buses that are currently on the road are diesel-fueled, which means that our children are breathing that toxic air. It is then having an impact on public health issues like asthma.
What is that going to mean? It will then have a public education impact because they are going to miss days of school, and what that means in terms of missing critical phases of their education. It's a workplace safety issue because the school bus driver is also breathing that.
And -- and what we are doing right now around investing in the -- in U.S.-based manufacturing around electric school buses and the work that is happening that is also about up- -- holding up and lifting up our folks like IBEW and our union apprentice programs and what they are doing to build the skills that are necessary to do the jobs, that are good-paying jobs where there are going to be workplace safety and pensions and all of the things that recognize the dignity of work.
All of this is part of the ecosystem when we think about an issue like electric vehicles. And so the Venn diagram of it all includes public health, public education. We're creating jobs. It's an environmental justice issue, because as we know these days, mostly the kids who go to school on the school bus are in low-income communities. And -- and all of these issues then will benefit from an approach that is about clean energy and being smart around a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
MS. ESTEFAN: That speaks to me.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah. (Applause.)
MS. ESTEFAN: Yes. Both my kids had asthma, so I totally understand exactly what you're talking about.
And, you know, I came to Miami when I was about 18 months old as part of the Cuban diaspora. And my Asturian grandfather would take me to the beach every day. So I have been enjoying the wonderful things that Florida has to offer for many, many years.
In fact, he relaxed so much one day that he fell asleep floating on his back, and I had to get the lifeguard to go get the kayak --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Oh my. (Laughs.)
MS. ESTEFAN: -- and bring him back. (Laughter.)
But I remember standing and looking on Ocean Drive and enjoying the -- the breeze and the sun. And, you know, even at a young age, I understood how important it is to keep the planet healthy.
Now, after living in Miami Beach for 38 years, we see the changes. Our bays. Coral is dying. We have major fish kills. And being on the water, I have seen the water rising to a -- to an alarming degree. So saving our oceans is a big deal for me.
I know that you are focused on this work. So how did you first get engaged in that?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, probably since birth. I was born in Oakland, California, which is in the Bay Area of California. And --
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Woo!
THE VICE PRESIDENT: And -- yeah. (Laughter.)
And, you know, the Bay Area credits itself as being one of the birthplaces of -- of this movement.
I grew up -- in elementary school, it was then -- I'm going to date myself -- but it was ecology classes that we would have. And in the Bay Area, there was this whole movement around Save the Bay, and the activism was strong. And then couple that with the fact that my parents met when they were active in the Civil Rights Movement, which, of course, was a fight for justice and equality.
And those influences really, I think, formed how I have thought of and worked on this issue, which is to take seriously the need to protect and preserve this beautiful Earth, but also that let's always think of it through the lens also of equity and justice.
So, as you mentioned, when I was DA of San Francisco, I created one of the first environmental justice units, because, at the time, there's a community in San Francisco called Bayview-Hunters Point that had an annual household income, which I think is still true, about $15,000. One-five.
And, not surprisingly, that community was just, you know, treated by some like a dumping ground. And you would see high rates of asthma, and you'd see the public health impact.
And, you know, in this movement, I think it's important for us -- sometimes we might debate it, but I think it's important for us to also agree that there has to be consequences for bad behaviors.
And so I created this environmental justice unit as a way of making sure that we were enforcing the laws that would protect communities that, in particular, were vulnerable, often because they were low income and didn't have access to the power that would otherwise be able to put a stop to that.
When I was Attorney General of California, similarly, as the -- running the California Department of Justice -- second largest Department of Justice in the country only to the U.S. Department of Justice -- I took on this issue. You know, we -- you -- some of you may remember the Santa Barbara oil spills and -- and what we needed to do in terms of litigation there.
And so I have thought of it in many ways that includes the enforcement piece, includes the justice piece, but also, as a kid, maybe, from the Bay Area, thinking about it with, again, excitement around the innovation and the potential that we have to actually invest in these brilliant, smart approaches -- a lot led by, you know, the young leaders who are here, who I just met with earlier, to think about, you know, what we can do to get in front of this in a way that we also see the potential for new approaches, new professions, new leaders.
Very excited about that.
MS. ESTEFAN: Absolutely. And I know we have people from outside of Florida at this conference. How many here are from our beautiful state of Florida? (Applause.)
Okay, so I don't have to tell you how important water is to us. We're dangling by a thread to the United States. We're practically an island here.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah. Indeed.
MS. ESTEFAN: Yes, very much. (Laughter.) And we all care very much about the beauty of the life that the oceans afford us, both on the water, in the water; the importance of, as we mentioned, our bay. And we are a big part -- we are very connected to the Bahamas. We butt up against their international waters.
And it really is a responsibility for all coastal areas to take action, because the majority of the fish that people eat are literally on the coastal areas of the entire world.
So we hold a very deep responsibility. You can tell that I'm very passionate about water. I'm a captain. I have three courses in navigation, seamanship -- (applause) --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Oh, I didn't know that!
MS. ESTEFAN: -- and piloting.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah! (Applause.)
MS. ESTEFAN: Yes. And I am very, very careful when I am out there on the water with the marine animals, with the manatees and everything, because we're seeing a lot of -- we're seeing a lot of sharks dying, whales that have been beached here. So that is crucial to me.
I heard you love water policy. Why?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I do, actually. I do. Well --
MS. ESTEFAN: Tell us about that.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I mean, even just the origin stories. Growing up in the Bay Area, we had one of -- you know, back in the '70s, you know, extreme drought and, you know, just learning from an early age the precious nature of it all.
Water policy. First of all, we've got to diversify water policy and put the resources into it. Right? So it's about conservation and recycling and -- and what we need to do around water storage and, in particular, underground water storage.
Desalination. Let's try and get that right and think about what we need to do there.
Water policy. Understanding that, through the work that we will do, it is about, again, creating jobs, creating infrastructure. Let's think in a different way, you know, water policy. Traditionally, we see floods, and then we treat that issue in a reactive way as the emergency issue it is when it happens. But the policy has not been so smart, because in coastal communities, the way to deal with the emergency: flush it into the ocean.
And so let's think about, ahead of time, okay, if we're going to deal with these whiplash effects that we're seeing -- in California, where we're seeing, on the one hand, a drought and then, months later, maybe even weeks later -- right? -- flooding -- how are we going to have smart policy around not only behaviors, but infrastructure and building and just municipal policies that adapt to the realities of these issues.
I also think of it in the context of what I think most people -- here, for sure -- would agree: Access to clean drinking water should be a right, not a privilege, of those who can afford it. (Applause.) Right?
MS. ESTEFAN: Absolutely.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: And so, let's -- let's also start with that value statement and then figure out, okay, so are we actually playing that out? And I think about that in the context of lead pipes. We've been doing a lot of work around lead pipes, and our infrastructure resources are going into getting rid of -- our estimate is by -- within the next nine years, we will get rid of all lead service lines in the country. Lead pipes.
So the grandmothers and grandfathers of those communities, predominantly now low-income communities, have been talking for years about the fact that, you know, "We may not be a scientist or a medical doctor, but don't tell me that this issue is not affecting the health of my child, because it is." They've been pointing to the fact that drinking that toxic water is having an impact on the child's ability to learn. I have met with the families, I've met with children who have actually had those experiences.
And so the work that we need to do to also address something like that. Think about it from the perspective of justice, which is this -- and equity. Well, lead pipes were not built only in low-income communities and communities of color. However, knowing then that it is producing toxic water, those who have the means -- in communities, for example, with high rates of homeownership -- can take some equity out of their home and get rid of those pipes and install new pipes. But not in the communities where you have high rates of renters or low income, who are barely making it from month to month, and then that not being dealt with.
And so the importance of the policy that we have is to say this has to be a matter of public health. And in a democracy, we should agree that the government, therefore, should meet the needs, in particular in a public health crisis, and step in to take those pipes out. And that's what we're doing.
MS. ESTEFAN: Absolutely. Yes. (Applause.)
And I want to get to those important policies and legislation that you've gone through. But, you know, these things work. We're seeing, when you take steps, it works. I know that our wonderful city of Miami Beach has been raising streets and building -- (applause) --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
MS. ESTEFAN: -- pipes to get rid of the floodwaters. And we are seeing a lot less flooding.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Right.
MS. ESTEFAN: And one of the things I'm most excited about is there's over a billion dollars that has been designated for the Everglades now.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes. Yes.
MS. ESTEFAN: The Everglades. Hello, this -- (applause) --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
MS. ESTEFAN: It's so important. I mean, even -- I know that our street -- 8th Street that runs across the entire state -- originally, they didn't know what would happen when they put that street through. And it caused the death of many plants and animals. They are now raising this, and already we are seeing those plants and animals coming back.
And the Everglades is so important. It's the largest wilderness -- tropical wilderness in the United States, the largest wilderness of any kind east of the Mississippi. It's a fragile ecosystem that cleans the water -- the fresh water in Florida.
So we'd love to know: What are some of the new climate investments that excite you the most?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, the water -- what we're doing with water is definitely one of them, including, to your point, the million dollars that will go into addressing the Everglade -- the Everglades, which, as I'm told and have read, produces about -- water for about 8 million people here in this area of South Florida.
It was interesting, I was having a conversation with someone earlier about the Everglades. And the way that they described it to me is that the Everglades are almost drowning because of the sea water, the rising sea level, and just the visual image of what that means, to your point, in terms of the ecosystem that is there, in terms of plants and life. So that is the work we're doing.
The electric vehicle work. The work that we are doing -- for example, rebates. So when -- and again, it's about bringing down costs. So, electric vehicle rebates. So I think I have these numbers right, but it's about $7,000 for new electric vehicles; about $4,000 for used electric vehicles, which is a new approach, which is to create rebates for vehicles that are used.
We also have created rebates for -- for families to install new HVAC systems.
So thinking about also the ways that we uniquely, as government, have the ability to create incentives -- financial incentives -- because again, in the -- in the justice category of all of this, it should not be that only the people who -- I think many people have the will to participate in what we must do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and be smart, but not everyone has the means, because there is so much about what can be significant or accelerated that requires resources.
And so, we have to think about this movement in a way that we are making it affordable for a working family that wants to participate but otherwise has been unable. And that's part of the work that our administration is doing, which I think is very important.
MS. ESTEFAN: It's very important.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
MS. ESTEFAN: And in Florida, you know, we have a lot of very difficult challenges, both with the hurricanes, as we saw on our West Coast, that really had a --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
MS. ESTEFAN: -- and offshore drilling. There's a lot of things that we can be doing to be very responsible as we head into this new era where we really need to take big steps.
And, you know, I was born in Cuba, and I've traveled the globe extensively, as have you. You -- you've traveled the globe extensively. And you're working all kinds of issues.
But when you're meeting with world leaders, how are you ensuring that the U.S. is doing its part?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: So, there's work to be done there. I have, for example, been meeting with the Caribbean island nation leaders. There's -- the group is called CARICOM. It's the organization of Caribbean nations. And I've been very candid with them, which is that we have to admit that there are certain nations that are some of the biggest emitters, and there are certain nations that are paying the biggest price.
And so, I look at what's happening in the Caribbean. And they're island nations, so they're seeing the land erosion, they're seeing the sea levels rising. Let's be clear that they are also experiencing these -- these extreme weather events, which have a direct impact on one of the main sources of their GDP, which is tourism. And so, their, just, compounded harm that they are experiencing disproportionate to their role in the cause of it all.
And so I've been convening them, and we've been meeting with them around what we have initiated. We had a summit with them recently where we are, as the United States, going to facilitate technical assistance and facilitate private investment -- U.S. private investment -- to assist them in growing their clean energy economy and -- and building up their adaptation and resilience capacity. And I just think that's the right thing to do.
I was in Thailand recently, dealing with activists who are working on the Mekong River and the issues that are there. And I brought a group of activists together. I told the government this is what I was going to do, and -- but I did it. And bringing these activists together to uplift their work, which is about fighting for sustainability and fighting against what are, you know, industrial practices that are really having an adverse -- a very profound adverse impact in that region.
So that is the kind of work that we have been doing. But there is -- there is more to do.
And I would say that the reality, I think, is that we have to understand the impact of what we have done and what we continue to do, and then have a conversation about what, therefore, is our role as the United States in addressing it in a way that can be helpful, because it is our neighborhood, in particular when we're talking about western states.
But, you know, I also, for example, went to the Philippines and went to the Palawan islands. I'm told I was the first Vice President or, you know, person at that level who had been there. And the Palawan island is in the South China Sea. And there, I visited with the local folks who are involved in trying to have investment around sustainable fishery.
And I think whatever we can do to help incentivize and support the kind of activism and work that's happening around the world will inure to our benefit in that it will benefit the globe. So that's how I think about it.
MS. ESTEFAN: And thank you so much. And, you know, it's daunting work. All of us that are here seeing this conference, when you look at the things that are happening all over, it's easy to get disheartened, but I happen to believe that we are all creat- -- creating reality collectively together.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
MS. ESTEFAN: And whenever I need inspiration, I look to my family. From the moment that my kids were born, we did whatever we could. We'd go to the back of the house, clean up the things that washed up on our -- on our -- the rocks behind the house. There's something that each of us can do in our own families to make things better.
We can't focus on things and say, "Oh, my God, it's too big. We can't fix it."
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That's right.
MS. ESTEFAN: We have to stay positive.
And I know that I look to my family, my fans worldwide that have allowed me the pleasure of being able to make music for them. What is it that motivates you to do this kind of work?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I see that it makes a difference. I think --
Is that where the young leaders are, the fellows that I just met with? (Laughs.) (Applause.) I thought that was you. I thought that was you.
I just met with -- I hope everyone has had a chance to meet with them. I mean, they're -- they're brilliant. They're exc- -- look, just doing the dance in the chair. They're excited. They're thinking about -- I mean, one of the young leaders was talking to me about climate mental health. I said, "Tell me what's going on with your peers." Climate mental health. And she talked -- I said, "I think I understand that, but unpack it for me." And she talked about how her peers are thinking about it -- one example is, you know, whether, when they're ready, could they start a family; worried about what that would mean and the stress of it.
They were talking about it in terms of their peers trying to figure out, you know, they're going to have to get a job, and they're going to have to make a living, but what can they do and how can they adapt the education that they're having now to their activism.
You know, to which I was sharing with them, you know, when I go to speak at colleges, when I talk about this, I say, "You know, if you're a…" -- you know, there's a bunch of students, and I'll say, "You know, if you're an HR major, well, we're creating a clean energy economy, and all kinds of new businesses are going to sprout up because of that. They're going to need a HR person." "You know, if you're in -- if you're a communications major, we're going to need you to understand everything that is at play and help us articulate this in a way that makes sense to the largest number of people and that is accessible."
So that makes me -- you -- (gestures to the audience) -- make me so excited because you're going to leapfrog over all of this. (Applause.) You are. You are.
And, you know, I mean, you asked, Gloria, earlier about just the international and global piece. This is going to be the leadership that not only is dealing with the climate crisis, but we all understand connected to that is what we're seeing around the globe in terms of food insecurity, energy insecurity, and what that means.
You know, I took heat when I was in the United States Senate -- for a number of reasons -- but when -- (laughter) -- but there was a time when I was questioning someone who was up for a nomination for a -- for a position that is about national security. And I asked this person about the climate crisis as an asp- -- as having a national security component. And, you know, the -- you know what press just took me -- "Oh, what is she doing? What is she doing?"
But here's the thing: When we think about this work, it ranges from issues like food insecurity, energy security, to national security, global security. Why? Because basic fact: Human beings need to eat food. If you cannot grow food where you live, you move somewhere else. And invariably, it is very possible that communities of people will move to places that speak a different language and pray to a different god, which will result in conflict.
We are seeing -- if you look at migration patterns around the world and overlay that with what we're seeing in terms of changing climate -- more migration, I'm told, than we've seen historically. And there's a direct connection to all these issues.
So the leadership that we have, I'm excited about it because it's going to address a lot of these issues that seem unconnected, disconnected, but are directly impacted by this work.
MS. ESTEFAN: Madam Vice President, first, let me congratulate and thank you for representing women in such a daunting position. (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
MS. ESTEFAN: Absolutely.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, thank you. Thank you.
MS. ESTEFAN: We know politicians catch heat, and thank God somebody wants to take it, because I wouldn't want that job. (Laughter.)
But thank you, everyone that's here in this conference, for having the conversation, for starting the conversation, for taking steps, for passing legislation, for being focused on things that, as a world, we need to focus on together.
And I'm very proud of Florida and Miami Beach and the Aspen Institute. (Applause.)
And I thank you so much for being here with us. It's really an honor to have you, and it's an honor to be able to speak with you here.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It's my honor. Thank you.
MS. ESTEFAN: Thank you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, everyone. (Applause.)
Kamala Harris, Remarks by the Vice President in a Moderated Conversation on Climate in Miami Beach, Florida Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/359962