The global youth climate movement has grown dramatically over the past year, much engagement stemming from the record-breaking climate strikes in September 2019.
On the anniversary of Climate Week during a global pandemic, Our Climate students have adapted to ensuring climate activism in a virtual world. Our Climate empowers young leaders to advocate for equitable and science-based climate policy.
Our Climate has engaged young leaders across Florida to build support for climate action in their communities by providing training on grassroots organizing and climate policy.
Here are six essays from Our Climate’s students about our responsibilities to act this Climate Week.
Slow violence is creating climate refugees
By Kimberly Gerbert, 22, Florida State University, hometown of Tallahassee
The term “refugee” often implies the effect that war, crime, or natural disaster has on vulnerable populations. However, droves of refugees around the world are fleeing a gradual, barely perceptible form of violence that is often not reported in the media.
Environmental degradation wrought by climate change is a form of slow violence that will begin to displace millions of Americans in coming years, including here in Florida. And by 2022, a small community in Louisiana will set precedent as the first relocated climate refugees in the United States.
Isle de Jean Charles is a narrow, biodiverse island in Louisiana that lies about 80 miles southwest of New Orleans. It serves as the ancestral grounds of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe, whose ancestors were displaced following the Indian-Removal Act in 1830.
Today, the tribe’s members are migrating inland due to climate change because, since 1950, Isle de Jean Charles has lost approximately 98% of its land cover due to coastal erosion and salt water intrusion. Ultimately, the tribe recognized that their land was being threatened by a form of slow violence, and prepared to resettle.
Because of this, the tribe will likely be able to reunite displaced tribal members, rejuvenate tradition, and secure a solid future. However, many communities have not been and will not be so lucky, and Florida is far from immune.
When Hurricane Michael ravaged Mexico Beach in 2018, many left their homes and never returned. What was intended to be a short evacuation turned into a permanent resettling to places like Tallahassee. The Mexico Beach refugees did not have the resources to rebuild.
Many vulnerable communities on the Gulf Coast are experiencing the gradual impacts of sea-level rise, including increased rates of coastal erosion and salt water intrusion. While these issues are being mitigated, stronger hurricanes and more powerful storm surge will harm the homes and livelihoods of those living on the coast.
We must bring attention to this gradual disaster. The effects of climate change are disproportionate, and we must address this through equitable policy and action to ensure that our most vulnerable communities do not become the next American climate refugees.
Covid shows humans adapt; we need that trait to beat the climate crisis
By Catarina Fernandez, 20, Florida State University, hometown of Miami
Our lives are not what they were six months ago. Though things will likely never fully return to the way they used to be before Covid-19, there is beauty in the display of human resilience.
We adapt and try to find new comfort in the new normal.
Already we have virtual workplaces and funky masks (ever the dystopian fashion statement!). It is this same ingenuity and innovation that has brought us to the pinnacle of human civilization.
And as we move into a century sure to be ravaged by climate change, we must rely on this adaptability and resourcefulness.
The coronavirus is far from the last disaster we will face. But it has shown us that we have the power to make the big changes necessary to avert a climate catastrophe.
During climate week last year, millions of young people around the globe demonstrated for our future. We have adapted to fighting for our future through virtual forums, meetings with our legislators, and media pitches. We can make lifestyle changes, we can learn new skills, we can take to the streets and make our voices heard. The question is: will we?
Tampa is particularly vulnerable to the damaging effects of the rising seas
By Kala Tedder, 19, University of South Florida, hometown of Lakeland
Charley. It was 2004 — the year four hurricanes would strike Florida and cross through the heart of Polk County, where my family has lived for generations.
I was young, but I remember the horrible noises outside as wind and rain lashed our home in Lakeland. I remember a tilted mattress resting above us in a dark, narrow hallway, our small family’s huddle illuminated by candlelight. I remember how it destroyed my father’s business, and how even to this day, he spends months putting it back together after each hurricane.
Floridians know what power hurricanes have – in the immediate aftermath and even years later. What my family experienced is just a microcosm of what Floridians have experienced from a slew of names that sound like friends, Michael, Irma, Dorian, Sally.
Because of its location, Florida is particularly vulnerable to storms. But, we never signed up for climate change. There was no warning label before moving here that these hurricanes would become stronger, more frequent, and more destructive over time.
Living on the coast in Tampa now, I have a new fear. Projections show the Tampa Bay area can expect up to 8.5 feet of sea-level rise by the end of the century. Even before that, the incremental creeping of the tide will erode our shorelines, harm our ecosystems, and threaten our drinking water. Between the worsening storms and rising seas, my home is constantly threatened.
We don’t have to imagine a world altered by anthropogenic climate change. Here, we live it and it’s only going to get worse. As Floridians, we have a special charge to take care of our homes. This state is special — the natural beauty, biodiversity, and history of this place is worth preserving. And more than that, our lives, our communities, are worth keeping.
No, I didn’t get a choice to be born here. But I do have the choice to stand up for the future we deserve and in November I will be voting accordingly.
Food waste threatens global food security
Ian Babler-Madrid, 17, Winter Park High School
In 2017, about 854,880 children in Florida were experiencing food insecurity, according to Feeding America. Even though many people are experiencing food insecurity, 30% of food produced in the United States is wasted.
Some of it is discarded simply because shoppers don’t like how imperfect fruits and vegetables look. Food waste contributes to food insecurity and the emission of harmful greenhouse gases.
Roughly half of the food grown in the United States is used to feed students and tourists at schools, restaurants, theme parks, stadiums and on cruise ships. These sectors were devastated by COVID-19 and the demand for food plunged, especially in Orlando. In response, farmers began to dispose of their food. That has caused a dramatic increase in food waste.
Disposing of food not only hurts people in food deserts, like Okeechobee County, but food waste threatens future food security. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, if food waste was considered a country, it would rank as the third-highest emitter of greenhouse gases behind the U.S. and China. The decay of organic waste produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
Not only is climate change the existential crisis of our time, but it threatens our food supply. Food waste prevention is the most effective and equitable way for an individual to combat the climate crisis. Orlando residents and businesses can request a free composter and cooking oil recycling container. Composting, eating oddly shaped produce, and advocating for the end of unnecessary food waste are steps we can take to curb the warming of our atmosphere.
Young people who care about the environment need to vote in 2020
By Emily Vo, 17, Coral Springs High School
It’s important to hold public officials accountable by voting.
We have nine years and 104 days until 2030. Some scientists contend that 2030 is the deadline for significantly reducing emissions of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. If emissions remain at today’s levels, the planet will continue to warm and there will be little that anyone can do to stop it.
The effects of climate change have been ingrained in our minds through news reports or daily experiences. And as students, we’ve witnessed this political trend of funneling money into fossil fuel industries and into the hands of the nation’s wealthiest 1%.
This dynamic perpetuates environmental injustice. It is why after six years there is still no clean water in Flint, Michigan. It is why wildfires have caused such damage throughout California, Oregon, and Washington and why sea-level rise is leading to climate gentrification in Miami.
Developers and corporations are making it too expensive for poor people to remain in their neighborhoods. The time for arguing is over; it is not enough to merely discuss the consequences.
Direct political action is more crucial than ever. Young people can organize and hold officials’ feet to the fire. Young people are demanding that the Green New Deal and a sustainable future are demands, not suggestions. Clean-energy jobs, universal healthcare, and zero-emission energy sources are achievable through the vote of young people.
The power of the youth vote is both strong. We need to use it to protect our future.
Red tide off Pinellas Beach killed shocking numbers of fish, marine animals
Veronica Morejon, 19, St. Petersburg College, hometown of Tampa
There was so much life around, but all was dead.
We had heard of red tide, but never knew the extent of the problem until that day. Weekend after weekend, no one set foot on Florida’s beaches, tourists included.
That day was the first of many waves that would soon follow, leaving Florida looking more like “the dead-fish state.” My family and I are avid boaters. We really take the time to enjoy all that our home has to offer.
The first time I experienced the effects of algae blooms was off the coast of Pinellas Beach. At first all seemed normal, but as we approached our destination we began to see disturbing sights.
A floating fish here, another there, a few hundred covering Egmont Key’s fine sand. The smell of rotten fish filled the air. As a result, everyone tried to take shorter breaths. We were afraid of inhaling the death surrounding us.
The water was clear, but you no longer would see through to the bottom. The dead fish, rays, and other marine animals blocked the view.
Red algae blooms have swept across Florida taking marine life, beaches and tourists with it. Floridians have been left with much to chew on.
The actions Floridians choose to make now regarding harmful algal blooms from anthropogenic causes will determine Florida’s economic future.
Born and raised in Tampa, I’ve chosen to open my eyes to what Florida’s Gulf Coast is facing. From plastic pollution to algae blooms, a trend has emerged and I don’t see it slowing any time soon.
Nutrients from farm pollution and stormwater runoff can make red tide outbreaks worse so Floridians must work together to reduce pollution and the severity of red tide outbreaks.
We must make Floridians aware of the problem our Gulf faces and educate them about how to solve it. We want to make our home a cleaner and more prosperous place.
“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.