Kids to state lawmakers: Do something – now – about climate change, please

Tallahassee resident Charlotte Stuart-Tilley, 13, outside the historic Capitol bldg. on April 9.

Juhi Kore experienced first-hand the ravages of our changing climate as a seven-year-old growing up in Mumbai back in July 2005. That’s when her coastal megacity of 10 million people endured 37 inches of rain in a single day. The massive flooding led to more than 1,000 deaths, more than 14,000 destroyed homes and some $1.7 billion in damages.

Kore says climate change was part of her education growing up in India. So she was surprised when she moved to the U.S. to see so little emphasis on the changes going on in the world’s climate and its potential to negatively affect the U.S. in the decades to come.

“I think the image that people outside the country have of America is that they always think of the future, that it’s very progressive. And just coming here you realize that’s not always the case,” the 21-year-old recent graduate from the University of Tampa said earlier this week.

Kore was one of several dozen young people who visited the Capitol this week to speak to lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle about their concerns about climate change, and what Florida’s elected leaders might do about it in Florida. It was part of a nationwide “Youth Lobby Day” organized by the environmental group Our Climate, a youth-led organization created to energize younger people about climate change.

Several studies published in recent years show that communities in the Sunshine State are among the most susceptible to climate change risk in the U.S.

But the reality is that when it comes to the Florida Legislature this session, there’s not much going on to deter the effects of climate change. A proposal by Rep. Ben Diamond, a Democrat from St. Petersburg, would establish a comprehensive program and resiliency plan for the state to assess and prepare for climate change’s effects was introduced on the eve of the session.

It’s not been heard in a single committee.

State Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez, a  Miami-Dade County Democrat, introduced five climate change-related bills before the session. One of them, a proposal that calls for a sea level impact analysis for  any new state-funded coastal construction projects, has passed two committees. But, its House companion, sponsored by Miami-Dade Democrat Javier Fernandez, has not been heard by any committee.

Sixteen-year-old Valholly Frank is one of eight teenagers in Florida suing state officials for endangering their future and failing to protect their constitutional rights to safe climate system. (Read previous Phoenix coverage of that lawsuit here.)

“We’re the next generation who’s going to take care of this earth, and nobody right now is really taking a stand in their adult lives to help us. So if nobody is going to help us, we have to do it ourselves,” she said.

Isaac Augspurg is also part of the lawsuit challenging Florida officials for their failure to protect state residents from the intensifying impacts of global warming. The 13-year-old, who lives just outside of Gainesville, says he grasped the importance of climate change when he was about 10, which led to an obsession about what he could do to get involved.

“We’re all just trying to figure this out,” he says when asked what he would soon say to lawmakers about what needs to be done to mitigate the effects of a warming planet. “We’ve got to work together. We all have families, and a future. We have to keep on fighting this issue if we’re going to survive in this amazing world.”

Tallahassee resident Charlotte Stuart-Tilley is another 13-year-old who appeared at the Capitol this week to meet with lawmakers. She’s the home-schooled  daughter of two scientists, and she says she’s been worried about climate change “for a really long time,” but her activism genes really kicked when she learned about Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist who became a role model for worldwide student activism when she  created the school strike for climate movement last fall. Thunberg was nominated last month for the Nobel Peace Prize.

“Seeing a teenager being out there and getting a lot of stuff done, getting a lot of people interested (in climate change)  – it’s really, really important to me,” she said.

All told, the group met with 12 different lawmakers, including Rep. Clay Yarborough, a Republican from Jacksonville, as well as Democratic Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson from Jacksonville, Senator Randolph Bracy, a Democrat from Orange County, and Rep. Adam Hattersley, a Democrat from Hillsborough County.

 

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