The emergence of a chief heat officer position in Miami and other cities largely stems from an initiative of the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center and similarly minded foundation boards. The position, which these foundations not-coincidentally help fund, is designed to help local policymakers develop tools and strategies to ease the climate change burden, especially when it befalls the world's most vulnerable populations.
The overarching purpose of the position is to "expand, accelerate and coordinate our efforts to protect people from heat and save lives," said Miami Mayor Daniella Levine Cava in an April 2021 statement.
Jane Gilbert, who had previously served local government in a consulting capacity as Miami's first heat resiliency officer, was appointed as Miami's first heat officer in early 2021, serving both the municipality of Miami and Miami Dade County. It falls to her to usher local leadership, both public and private, through impending environmental changes. The goal is a big one: to mitigate the fallout of the climate crisis.
Gilbert is expected to create a public/private task force to "analyze existing conditions and vulnerabilities and identify strategies to address current and future impacts of extreme heat on human health, lives, and livelihoods," according to the Miami Foundation website. It would then be up to Gilbert, or any chief heat officer in the position, to create a plan to address these risks through government departments and the community at large.
Chief Heat Officer positions in Phoenix, Athens and Freetown are expected to be structured similarly.
Climate change is an issue plaguing governments everywhere, even municipal governments in relatively insulated cities like Beverly Hills. Because of climate change concerns, the city recently decided to take a fresh look at its sustainability initiatives, says Wendy Nystrom in an email interview. Nystrom is a Beverly Hills city commissioner and co-chair of the city's Community Advisory Committee — Climate Action and Adaptation Plan. Nystrom, who earned a master's degree in geology, earth sciences and geochemistry, works as an environmental and pollution risk management expert.
"I have definitely seen an increased interest in municipalities addressing heat equity and climate change," she says, pointing to Santa Monica, California, as an early adopter (in 2019, the city rolled out an $800 million plan to fight climate change).
The City of Beverly Hills, like many municipalities, is considering policy-led initiatives to environmental damage in small and large ways. "We recently passed a plastic utensil ordinance where plastic cutlery is no longer provided in take-away meals unless specifically requested. It is a small step, but we are progressing, and we are currently working with the Clean Power Alliance to take Beverly Hills from 50 percent renewable energy to 100 percent. It will take time, and require quite a bit of public outreach, communication and education, but we're making steady progress," Nystrom says.