By Judy Freiberg, Democratic Environmental Caucus of Florida
I spent the first 18 years of my legal career handling divorces, prioritizing people who were being physically or sexually abused within their families, to help them escape family violence and rebuild their lives. I was surprised at how many attorneys and judges resisted believing and protecting children from sexual violence, instead focusing their concern on protecting the rights of the perpetrators to have access to their victims.
More shocking was the growth of the “expert witness” industry used by lawyers specializing in defending perpetrators. These “experts” created and marketed to the public unproven psychological theories that explained away the injuries and testimony. Judges in denial chose to believe fake experts and the testimony of perpetrators, rather than children, their doctors, social workers and therapists who were actually treating the victims.
Many charged with protecting children simply did not want to believe that a father would do that to his child. One of the court social workers once explained why it was so difficult to protect children in the court system this way: “Denial is on the side of the perpetrator.”
That phrase has stayed with me. Denial is a human survival mechanism, when the reality of our situation is so upsetting, regardless of the issue, situation or context, that we find ways to deny that reality.
Here is our Florida climate reality: Outdoor workers are in danger of getting sick or dying from excessive heat. Many of us are still repairing damage from Hurricane Ian floods, knowing another storm is inevitable. Homeowner’s insurance is exorbitant, if you can even find coverage. In Miami, the ocean is entering streets on sunny days.
Here is our water quality reality: Red tide is keeping us from the beach on more and more days. Sea animals are dying due to fertilizers, chemicals, agricultural waste (cattle poop) and septic waste (human poop) being dumped into our waters. Don’t swim in those waters, nor eat the fish that swim there.
Environmental scientists have been warning us for decades that if we do not transition immediately to clean energy and away from fossil fuels and stop pollution at its source, large areas of the earth will not produce food, nor be habitable, due to pollution, flooding, heat and droughts.
Fossil fuel companies, with a profit motive to continue reliance on fossil fuels, have donated millions to national candidates who parrot the fossil fuel messaging. They appeal to strongly held religious beliefs or world views, and to our human instinct to deny reality.
They ignore and minimize the reality of what is taking place in Florida, and how it will worsen if we fail to pivot to clean energy. Their talking points deny science and facts that tell us climate change is catastrophic to human survivability; they exhort us to distrust clean energy advocates; they discredit clean energy solutions as just as bad, or worse, than fossil fuels. Any Democrat proposing solutions to climate change is dismissed as a “radical socialist.”
In 2024 we will decide who controls state and federal governments, and whether we will elect fossil fuel backed candidates who promise to roll back clean energy and clean water legislation, or candidates who will address solutions to climate change and water pollution. We know that much of Florida government is controlled by real estate, fossil fuel, big agriculture and mining interests. It is time that citizens take power back.
Ballot initiatives are ways that citizens can bypass the state Legislature and governor, and go directly to voters to place amendments into the Florida Constitution. One such initiative, The Right to Clean Water, would give Floridians a fundamental right to clean water. We need almost 1 million registered voters to sign that petition before November of 2023, and if that happens, in November of 2024, voters will decide whether we have a fundamental right to clean water in Florida.
Let’s work to get that initiative on the ballot, then pass it. While we do that, let’s work to understand the climate crisis we face and vote for candidates who will transition us to a clean energy economy.
I know we can do this. Here is what I learned so many years ago. People of like mind came together to combat an actual evil, child sexual abuse. We were able to protect children over and over, despite the fake experts and very human reluctance to believe that a parent would ever do such a thing to their own child.
It was then that I learned to rely on human qualities of empathy, fairness, the ability to love and be loved, honesty and self-respect when advocating for us to care for each other and our environment. I am betting on our better nature to save ourselves.
Do it now. Prove me right.
Go to: floridarighttocleanwater.org. Download and print the clean water petition, sign it and send it to the address on the petition. Then print out 10 more. Get your friends and family to sign them and send them in. If you are leading any organization, recreational, political or a community fellowship, use your organizational structure to get as many petitions signed by November of 2023 as possible.
Judy Freiberg is a retired lawyer, past president of the Collier County Democratic Environmental Caucus of Florida and currently vice president of the Democratic Environmental Caucus of Florida (environmentalcaucus.com).
This opinion piece was originally published by the Fort Myers News-Press, which is a media partner of The Invading Sea. If you are interested in submitting an opinion piece to The Invading Sea, email Editor Nathan Crabbe at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sign up for The Invading Sea newsletter by visiting here.