By Luxha Aliheligi Phillips
I’m a climate refugee and that’s the primary reason I am one of eight young Floridians who are plaintiffs in a climate lawsuit, Reynolds v. State of Florida. My name is Luxha Aliheligi Phillips and the warming climate has already affected my life.
In 2017, when I was 14 years old, Hurricane Irma was about to hit Florida as a Category 4 or 5 storm. My mom realized that we could not ride out the storm in Miami because we did not have the resources or support locally. My mother, little brother and I lived right on the water in a rented apartment near Brickell Ave. There was a nearby seawall and water often splashed over it onto the sidewalk.
Our cousins live in Chicago and they said we could stay with them. So, my mom got on the computer to find a flight, but they were already filled.
The next morning at 6 a.m., we packed our stuff and our cat Jerry into the car and left. We did not know how long we would be gone, or what would be destroyed by the storm.
We brought hurricane supplies so our car was packed tight. My mom began the drive and I fell asleep. When I woke up, we had been on the road for hours in heavy traffic. We found ourselves in Georgia but it was difficult to find a hotel room. My brother and I were nervous but eventually we found a room and got some sleep.
We got on the road again the next day at 6 a.m. This time, I had to stay awake and help my mom with the directions. I became her co-pilot for the rest of the day.
Again, we were looking for a place to stay. It was scary looking for hotels and we ended up getting lost. We finally found a hotel in Tennessee that appeared sketchy. My mom was so worried that she put a chair under the door handle to make sure we were safe. After about four days of driving, we reached Chicago, but the journey was one I will never forget.
The planet’s air and water are getting warmer – and hurricanes get energy from warm water. That is one reason hurricanes are getting more destructive.
Hurricanes are causing more flooding due to sea-level rise. Rainfall can be more intense due to warmer air holding more water. Irma was the most powerful Atlantic hurricane in recorded history and climate change contributed to the storm’s magnitude.
The record-setting heat in Florida this Spring has resulted in the Gulf of Mexico reaching record-breaking temperatures, which experts say could contribute to another devastating hurricane season.
When I heard about the climate change lawsuit, I wanted to participate because I want to be part of the solution. The suit contends that Florida is denying me and the other seven plaintiffs our constitutional right to a safe climate by failing to develop a plan to combat the warming climate.
In the end, my family and I moved to Chicago two years after Hurricane Irma. My mom could not deal with another hurricane season. She is a single parent and we didn’t have family nearby to help. I consider us climate refugees because we left the state that we loved to avoid storms that are getting more and more dangerous because the atmosphere and oceans are getting hotter – and our political leaders are doing very little to address the growing threat.
Even though we are kids, the problems that adults create affect us. We can’t vote. We aren’t given the power to make change. We do however have the power of our voices to demand change for future generations that will have to carry the burden that those who came before us ignored.
This lawsuit gives me a voice and the power to demand that the courts protect my constitutional rights. There’s an important hearing in our case on June 1, which is also the first day of hurricane season. My hope is that both of them go well.
Luxha Aliheligi Phillips is one of the eight young Floridians suing Florida officials for violating their constitutional rights to a stable climate.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.