Category Archives: Politics

Delaney Talks to Statues

Delaney talks to statues as she dances ’round the pool
She chases cats through Roman ruins and stomps on big toadstools
She speaks a language all her own that I cannot discover
But she knows I love her so when I tuck her ‘neath the covers
Father, daughter, down by the water
Shells sink, dreams float, life’s good on our boat

Jimmy Buffett
Delaney Talks To Statues, album Fruitcakes (1994)

Life sure is short.

When you are young, I suppose it can feel like we will live forever and that we have a seemingly unlimited amount of time to lead an impactful life, but the sad truth is we don’t really have much time here on this green and blue ball after all. The sooner you start your life’s work, the sooner you start trying to make a positive difference, the better because there is a lot to be done and truly so little time.

I turned 24 last week and in just a couple of days my baby brother Owen will turn 22. Both of us are committed to living impactful lives, to trying to be agents of change, but I have to admit that at our age it’s at times easy to feel a sense of longevity. To think we have an unlimited amount of time. That is until reality raises its head, such as the case with this weekend’s news of the passing of one of my true heroes: singer, song writer, adventurer, and environmentalist extraordinaire, Jimmy Buffett.

If you grew up in South Florida in recent decades like I have you know Jimmy to be an iconic presence that helped portray, and in many ways created, an American Caribbean lifestyle countless of people adore. And nowhere around these parts is that truer than here in the lower Florida Keys where I’ve spent so much of my life. Jimmy’s influence is literally everywhere here and we are better because of it. His untimely passing this weekend has me thinking a lot about my own relationship with Jimmy beyond just the places all around me that drift in and out of his songs and stories and the great times they always evoke.

I grew up in a home where my mother and father simply adored Jimmy, met him many times and had countless “Jimmy Buffett stories” to happily share. His music was on the radio in our homes, ever present on the boat, and, yes, he was “with” us as we traveled to one western National Park after another all summer this year through his Radio Margaritaville on the car’s satellite radio.

It’s fair to say that Jimmy Buffett’s music is the soundtrack of their lives and, thus, it became a large part of my own. When I was just learning to speak I’d yell out what I thought was his name, “Barry Muffet!,” whenever I heard his music as I jumped up and down and ran around the house like a crazy person dancing and singing. And the bedtime lullabies my father would sing to me when he put me to bed, Delaney Talks to Statues and Little Miss Magic, were often laced with Jimmy Buffett and still ring deep in my memories.  Heck, for the longest time I even wondered if I’d been named after Jimmy’s own daughter, (Sarah) Delaney.

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As I grew older I had the distinct honor of meeting Jimmy and was struck by how down to earth, genuine and engaging he was to me, a total stranger. And I was also fortunate to see him in concert many times and ways including at stadium shows like the night he opened for his good friends The Eagles at Hard Rock stadium in front of what had to be 50,000 people, as well as an intimate gathering of a hundred or so folks at a museum fundraiser with Gloria Estefan of Miami Sound Machine fame (talk about South Florida music royalty!).

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I am especially thankful to have been there at his very last Key West show this past February. I’ve rarely seen my father and mother more excited to see any live show than they were in the days before that concert, yet a bit ominous as Dad wondered aloud if this might be the last time that we ever saw him in concert. Sadly, it was just that, but Jimmy was at the absolute height of his powers playing the guitar, singing, and sharing story after story about those songs and his life in Key West. It was an intimate outdoor show at the Coffee Butler Auditorium, a place where I’d acted as the emcee for a Hurricane Irma Relief Fundraiser a few years ago when it first opened, on what was a perfect late winter night’s party with a thankful, colorful crowd of fellow Parrot Heads knowing we were witnessing something special. It’s a night that I will never forget.

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Even if you never saw him perform in person, there are countless places all over the Keys that he sings and writes about and in some way or another they have long been part of my life. Captain Tony’s. Caroline Street. AIA. The LaTeDa. Blue Heaven.

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Heck, as soon as I clear the channel in my boat here on No Name Key I only need look to the east to see the Seven Mile Bridge, the place where Jimmy finished writing his legendary song Margaritaville while stuck there in traffic for two hours one day. And, yes, I think of Jimmy every single time I see a gentle manatee drift by in the waters off the shores of No Name Key. He is everywhere here in our lives in the Keys.

“It’s pretty simple, we live in paradise, and paradise is in peril. We need to have a little more attention about the place where we grew up, and where our children should grow up. It’s not that hard, it really isn’t.”

Jimmy Buffett
During a 2018 Concert in Support of Democrat Gwen Graham

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Jimmy is one of my heroes, not only because he was a world class entertainer and highly successful businessperson, but because of his deep love and support of the environment, especially our oceans. Long before I was born, he served as Chairman of the Save the Manatee Committee NGO at the request of former Florida Governor Bob Graham, worked to save the Key West Salt Ponds, and led many other environmental causes. His environmental work is, to me, what made him a truly special person and an inspiration.

Over the years he appeared in front of Congress to support renewing the Endangered Species Act, supported countless NGO’s such as Reef Relief and never ever seemed to shy away from helping others in need whether after Hurricane Irma here in the Keys, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, or the entire Gulf Coast region following the horrific BP oil spill.

And, yep, there he was leading the way at his very last ever Florida show, in Hollywood, Florida this past February, when his final words that night were “stand with Parkland” as a message against the gun violence ravaging our country. Earlier that night he put it, as always, perfectly and simply  by saying “it’s not about politics, it’s about humanity.”  Jimmy Buffett put, as they say, his money where his mouth was and did so for more causes than can be counted and should always be remembered for his passion to help others and our environment.

I’d Rather Die While I’m Living.
Than Live While I’m Dead.

Jimmy Buffett
Growing Older But Not Up, album Coconut Telegraph (1981)

Singer.

Songwriter.

Sailor.

Father.

Author.

Pilot.

Angler.

Environmentalist.

Husband.

Actor.

Businessman.

Poet.

Activist.

Jimmy Buffett was a living, breathing blueprint of how to live one’s life to the fullest and how to have a positive, multifaceted impact along the way. He was an American institution and inspiration.

While I hope he’s now off performing a perpetual “Labor Day Weekend Show” like he sung about so many years ago, I am trying to make sense of my grief over his passing by thinking about how his life illustrates what we can accomplish during our short time here on earth. It’s an ironic lesson coming from the guy who helped issue the “License to Chill” but his impact is indisputable, and I sure am grateful to have crossed his path and to have my heart filled with his music. More grateful than he could ever possibly know.

Bubbles Up,
They will point you to home,
No matter how deep or far we roam.

Jimmy Buffett
Bubbles Up, album Equal Strain on All Parts (upcoming 2023)

“Bubbles Up” Jimmy and tight lines. May you sail on with the wind at your back forever more. Bravo for a life well lived and loved.

Recent GOP Debate Makes One Thing Clear: The Current Republican Presidential Candidates Will Not Solve the Climate Change Crisis

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Let me start by apologizing to Alexander Diaz, a student at Catholic University of America, and other young Americans for the appalling but extremely telling answers our generation received during this week’s Republican debate when asked about climate change. During the debate Alex asked the following astute question:

“Polls consistently show that young people’s number one issue is climate change. What would you do as President of the United States and leader of the Republican Party to calm their fears that the Republican Party does not care about climate change?”

The Fox News co-moderator, Martha MacCallum, then asked the candidates “for a show of hands” in response to her question: “Do you believe that human behavior is causing climate change?”

Sadly, none of the eight candidates on the stage vying for the Republican primary nomination raised their hands. Alex (and the rest of us) deserve each candidate’s answer on this profoundly important topic.

Acting like, well, a spoiled schoolboy, Florida’s Governor, Ron DeSantis, hastily then interrupted the moderator by outright avoiding the question and, instead, announcing:

“We’re not school children! Let’s have the debate.”

When asked again if that meant he was raising his hand he responded by saying “I don’t think that’s the way to do it” before railing on about the “corporate media’s treatment of Republicans versus Democrats” and talking about how he’s responded to hurricanes in our state rather than answering the actual question. The moderator and other candidates then repeatedly asked him if that was a “yes” or “a hand raise,” yet he remained silent. Silent to a generation, our country, and the world beyond.

Sadly, the governor of the state widely seen as ground zero for our climate crisis here in the United States, a place where large portions of our region face extinction from sea level rise, not only missed an incredible opportunity to show leadership on the most important topic on young people’s mind but, by repeatedly avoiding the question, he sent the clear message that he does not believe that humans are causing climate change nor is he interested in addressing the foundational cause of the problem: fossil fuel use and its resulting pollution.

Amidst the DeSantis comments, fellow candidate Vivek Ramaswamy was so eager to share his answer to Alex’s question he could not control himself, gleefully and smugly blurting out “my hands are in my pocket!” before taking over the answer by saying the following:

“It’s a hoax. Let us be honest as Republicans. I am the only person on the stage that’s not bought and sold for so I can say this! The climate change agenda is a hoax. The climate change agenda is a hoax. The anti-carbon agenda is the wet blanket on our economy. More people are dying of bad climate change policies than they are of actual climate.”

And, in the event it was not already crystal clear, later in the discussion Ramaswamy reiterated his position that oil and gas production should be increased, not reduced or eliminated as we transition towards sustainability, by touting: “drill, frack, burn coal, and embrace nuclear!”

If you were looking for hope from the Republican field, no matter how limited, then it came in the form of former South Carolina Governor and United Nations Ambassador under the Trump Administration Nikki Haley’s (the only female candidate in the race) comments when she said;

“Is climate change real? Yes, it is. But if you want to go and really change the environment, then we need to start telling China and India that they have to lower their emissions.”

The limited discussion on climate change from a group of supposed prospective leaders, like the rest of the “debate,” was disappointing and often even condescending to listeners intellect. As a country our leaders, no matter their political affiliation, need to be far better than what I watched and heard, especially on the reality of our climate change crisis and its foundational cause.

If you want to be disappointed by the Republican candidates, click the image below so you can watch the full five minute “climate change” discussion:

The good news is that under President Biden’s leadership, the bipartisan supported Inflation Reduction Act passed and was signed into law about a year ago. That bill, supported by both Republican and Democrat legislators, included the promise of an initial $400 million green energy stimulus package, much of which is in the form of tax credits. The IRA is by far the biggest step towards shifting our economy from one based upon fossil fuels to one fueled by sustainable energy.

The best news is that according to a study by the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School and Goldman Sachs, the bill’s tax credits have been so popular over the past year that the actual impact is now estimated to be approximately $1.2 trillion. And, while even that staggering amount will not solve our climate crisis, it’s most certainly a positive step into the future and a far better reflection of where we need to go than was evident in last week’s rhetoric-filled Republican debate.

Montana Youth Score Major “W” for our Climate with Judge’s Historic Ruling!

“The plaintiffs ‘have a fundamental constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment, which includes climate as part of the environmental life-support system.'”
Montana District Court Judge Kathy Seeley’s in Held v. Montana, August 14th, 2023

Held v. Montana plaintiffs

Once again, it is young people that are leading our country and civilization towards our sustainable energy future and away from its fossil fuel polluting past. The news this week and what kids and young adults in Montana have just accomplished is a very big deal indeed. Please join me in congratulating the 16 young people ages 5 to 22 that just won their historic, truly groundbreaking case (Held v. Montana) when Montana Circuit Court Judge Kathy Seeley ruled that her state’s agencies were violating their state established constitutional right to a clean and healthy environment by allowing fossil fuel development. The Judge’s ruling is the first of its kind in the United States of America.

The ruling followed a two week-long trial in response to a lawsuit that the children filed in March, 2020 that simply demanded that the state’s government follow its own constitutional wording by protecting its citizens from the causes of our climate change crisis. Their case asserted that, by supporting a fossil fuel-driven energy system that is contributing to our climate crisis, the State of Montana is violating the youth’s constitutional rights to a clean and healthy environment; to seek safety, health, and happiness; and to individual dignity and equal protection under the state law while also having argued that the state’s fossil fuel energy based system is degrading and depleting the state’s constitutionally protected public trust resources including the atmosphere, rivers, and lakes, as well as fish and wildlife.

In addition to the incredible news of the Judge’s favorable ruling itself is the fact that the trial introduced public testimony related to the impact our climate crisis has been having on the youth plaintiffs along with powerful, factual science and expert testimony on how the state’s policies are contributing to increasing carbon dioxide emissions that are, in turn, causing hotter temperatures, drought, wildfires, and decreased snowpack among other detriments to Montana’s environment. Not only will the experts’ testimony and factual data that was presented help guide Montana to a more sustainable future but many of those facts can now be used in other cases around the United States. The Court’s 103 page Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Order includes 84 pages of Findings of Fact, a virtual treasure trove of policy and scientific facts that support the damage that Montana’s government’s policies have been allowing and that must now be corrected.

As just one random example of the type of facts included in the ruling you will find this one, number 262, that explains that while the state authorizes four coal power plants generating 30% of the state’s power, the state has historically done this without consideration of how green house gas emissions pollute and change our climate despite Montana’s Constitution making it clear that the state should have been considering such things and that it has had an (unfulfilled) obligation to protect people’s rights including the right to a clean atmosphere. Here’s the 262nd Finding of Fact (you can read the entire document by clicking here):

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As we celebrate this ruling allow me to share an article that the University of Miami published a few days ago about the Montana case that offers perspective from a diverse group of thought leaders from our campuses, including some of my own thoughts. What I love about the following article is that it not only features many of my heroes, passionate professors that I am privileged to study with both at our School of Law (where I am about to start my third and final year and the Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science (where I am about to start my second year of Ph.D. studies), but that it illustrates the breadth of expertise that the University of Miami has focused on and devoted to the most important issue my generation will ever face: our climate crisis.
News@theU

Score one for youth on climate ruling

Sixteen young people, ranging in age from 5 to 22, prevailed in a first-of-its-kind climate change trial in Montana. University of Miami experts weigh in on what the verdict means and on the ripple effects it could have.

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In this photo, gas emissions rise from a coal-burning power plant in Colstrip, Montana, in 2013. Photo: The Associated Press

By Robert C. Jones Jr.
rcjones@miami.edu

Tears streamed down Delaney Reynolds’ cheeks.

It was late afternoon Monday, and the University of Miami graduate student had taken a break from kayaking in the lower Florida Keys to read an email news alert that had come over her cellphone.

In a landmark decision, a Montana state court sided with a group of 16 young environmental activists, ruling that the state violated their constitutional right to a “clean and healthful environment” by allowing fossil fuel projects without considering the effects on climate.

Reynolds paused, took a deep breath, and cried out in joy, “Finally.”

Three years ago, it could very well have been her celebrating a youth-led climate victory on the steps of a courthouse. But the lawsuit she and seven other young people filed in 2018 in Leon County Circuit Court, asserting that Florida, in causing climate change, threatened their right to a livable future, was dismissed by a circuit judge in 2020.

Never one to give up, Reynolds, described as everything from an eco-warrior to “an incredibly valuable force of nature,” continued her fight against climate change, speaking to environmental groups around the nation.

She has given a TEDx Talk, addressed the United Nations General Assembly, appeared with actor Jack Black on the National Geographic Channel’s “Years of Living Dangerously,” and founded the NGO the Sink or Swim Project.

Monday’s ruling in a courtroom more than 2,000 miles away in Helena, Montana, gives her hope that climate change can be conquered, and the Earth saved.

“It is indisputable that our local, state, and federal governments can and do influence energy policy and that the current laws and rules that are in place overtly support the use of the very fossil fuels that are destroying our atmosphere and oceans,” Reynolds said. “Until young people force change, as has happened in Montana, this antiquated system will not change. The good news is that young people all over our country and planet understand that fossil fuels are killing Earth’s environment; that this must stop during our lifetimes; that each of us logically have a constitutional right to a clean, healthy, atmosphere; and that we will use every avenue possible to force the change that is needed before it’s too late.”

Our Children’s Trust, the Oregon-based nonprofit public interest law firm that brought Reynolds v. Florida, also brought the Montana case on behalf of the 16 young clients who range in age from 5 to 22.

“I certainly know firsthand the hard work, ridicule, and profound sacrifices the youth in Montana have had to endure for years to see this case go to trial, the same has happened here to my friends and I in Florida a few years ago,” Reynolds pointed out. “But I also know countless young people that are dedicating their lives to solving this problem. And, within the story of one’s time here on Earth, what could be more important than solving our climate crisis? The science is clearly on our side. And increasingly the courts are on our side.”

The Montana ruling, which comes as heat waves continue to envelope the nation and as wildfires rage in the West, means that the state must now consider climate change in its approval or renewal of fossil fuel projects.

“This ruling is a huge victory for climate activists,” said Jessica Owley, an environmental law expert at the University of Miami School of Law, who went on to explain the Montana decision in detail. “It is based on Montana’s state constitution, which contains an affirmative right to a healthy environment. Outside of the United States, such provisions in national constitutions have provided an avenue to alleviate environmental harms. However, legal experts have long wondered whether such provisions have any meaning inside the United States. Our U.S. Constitution has no such right, but a few states do, including Montana, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, and New York.

“This case,” Owley continued, “demonstrates that these provisions can have substantive meaning. Because the state of Montana recognizes a right to a healthy environment, it was unconstitutional for a state statute to prohibit consideration of climate impacts during required environmental review processes.”

Held v. Montana, as the case is officially known, may inspire more states to add such provisions to their constitutions, Owley said.

“A massive win for the climate movement” is how Abigail Fleming—associate director of the School of Law’s Environmental Justice Clinic, which has worked with Our Children’s Trust—describes the Montana case. “The court created an extraordinary evidentiary record that shows the detrimental impacts of the climate crisis. More importantly, [the ruling] highlights that there are alternatives and that there can be a shift in the economy. It shows that enforcing a right to a safe and healthy climate is possible.”

Geoffrey Supran, associate professor of environmental science and policy at the Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science, who investigates climate change disinformation and propaganda by fossil fuel interests, said “climate lawsuits have been banging at the door of governments and oil companies for several years now. This ruling blows the door wide open. It’s a major milestone in climate litigation and the fight for climate accountability and justice.”

Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen’s office is planning to appeal the ruling. But even if the case is overturned, “the favorable district court opinion is highly significant in itself,” said Daniel Suman, a professor of environmental science and policy at the Rosenstiel School, who holds an adjunct appointment in the School of Law.

“Judge Seeley’s long opinion gives credence to climate change science and has certainly elevated the threats of climate change and the absence of government action in the public eye,” he said. “Her ruling will also encourage further litigation against greenhouse gas emitting industries and governments that fail to act to address these threats.”

The rise in such lawsuits has already begun, Owley pointed out. Our Children’s Trust, for example, has taken legal action on behalf of young people in all 50 states. The firm also has cases pending in four other states.

“And there are youth-led climate cases gaining traction across the globe,” Owley said. “A notable aspect of this case in Montana is that the court found that the youth plaintiffs had standing. This is the first climate case like this to make it to trial. Usually, they are dismissed for lack of standing or other threshold issues. ‘Standing’ asks whether the people before the court are qualified as plaintiffs, meaning that they must demonstrate that they will suffer an actual injury caused by the defendant’s actions,” she added. “Here, the youth plaintiffs were able to present stories of battling asthma, dealing with heat and fires, and other concrete harms. The court recognized that all carbon emissions contribute to these harms and any reduction possible will help alleviate the harm.”

A political system that has failed to respond to the climate crisis in a way that mitigates environmental damage is one of the primary reasons for the uptick in such lawsuits, said Douglas Ruley, the newly appointed director of the School of Law’s Environmental Justice Clinic, who has three decades of experience in environmental law and litigation.

“For all the good things that have occurred, carbon pollution is still increasing across the world,” he said. “So, folks are doing what they can to try to wake the system up. And maybe in some respect, this [Montana] decision can play a role in that.”

Ruley read much of the 103-page Held v. Montana ruling, becoming particularly struck by the fact that more than 80 of the pages are findings of fact in which the judge found the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses to be credible. “The court basically goes through the science of the climate crisis, its general effects, and its specific effects on Montanans,” explained Ruley. “The plaintiffs really marshaled a solid, factual case that was persuasive to the judge. And in response, the state didn’t have a whole lot to say.”

Is the historic verdict a wake-up call for the fossil fuel industry? “I wish it were,” Ruley said. “But judging from the last 30 years, I have very little hope that it will be. I would expect the industry to continue with the strategy that it’s had of denial and avoidance and creating confusion where possible and using its vast financial resources to influence politicians to keep on ignoring the problem as long as possible.

“There are positive things happening, though,” Ruley added. “The Inflation Reduction Act and the investments that are flowing from that will accelerate the transition toward a cleaner energy system and a less polluting economy. But here, again, as big a step as that was, a lot more needs to be done.”

Allow me to end this post by again congratulating the young people in Montana who were the plaintiffs in this case. From my own such case here in Florida a few years ago, I know first-hand how hard it is to fight the powerful adult leaders that are in charge today and who are focused on profits over pollution, the sacrifices one must make by participating in such a case, and the ridicule you face over years of your young life when you are simply trying to make things better for future generations. I am in awe of you and so very thankful.

Allow me to also congratulate the truly amazing team at Our Children’s Trust for their hard work, dedication, and passion in representing young people in the fight of our lives. Each of you should be proud of this news and while the fight is far from over you have taken an incredible step towards solving the climate crisis. Bravo to each of you. You are, without a doubt, heroes in the front line of this fight. (You can learn more about Our Children’s Trust, this case, and others by clicking here).

It is without a doubt shameful that we are forced to fight so hard, and from such a young age, against such powerful interests but I assure you that young people all over the world are up for the challenge. That I know for sure. And the Montana ruling makes clear, once again, that young people and our passion on this topic cannot be diminished. It is indisputable that morality and the science are on our side. We know that solving our climate crisis is the most important challenge that our generation will face during our time on earth and that we must solve it by shifting society from a fossil fuel-based economy to a sustainable one. For those businesses, leaders, products, and, yes, governments that are allowing the damage to continue, the Montana case sends you a loud message that young people will not sit idly by and allow you to perpetuate the damage.

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