Category Archives: #RatherBeInCourt

National Geographic: Fighting For Their Future

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Like my father before me, and his father before him, I‘ve grown up in what I would call a National Geographic household. Every month, year after year, decade after decade, dating to near the start of the last century, the magazine arrives in the mail with great fanfare as my entire family riffles through its pages and is transported all over the globe to learn about the wonders of nature, world cultures and some of the most profound issues of our time.

In fact, I honestly can’t imagine a more important publication or group of artists and story tellers than the people at “Nat Geo” and for that reason I am increadibly honored to have their amazing work cross my path once again by being featured in the April issue on climate change.

I first had the honor of working with the National Geographic Society when they televised the Emmy Award winning Years of Living Dangerously series in a piece that Jack Black hosted entitled Gathering Storm: Saving Miami (you can stream that and the other incredible episodes by clicking here).

I am still not sure it was a coincidence that on a family trip during the summer of 2015 to visit Washington DC’s Smithsonian Museums that our hotel was next door to, you guessed it, The National Geographic Society. It will not surprise you that we revised our plans and spent one entire morning walking through the building, enjoying an exhibit on monster river fish and another on anthropological archaeology. And as wonderful as the inside was, one of the billboards on the outside made the experience extra worthwhile.

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As we walked around the outside of the building to look at the pictures, I was overwhelmed to see that one featured one of my environmental heroes, famed shark scientist and frequent SharkFest National Geographic explorer Dr. Neil Hammerschlag from the University of Miami. Neil was deploying a “critter cam” with a very large tiger shark cruising just below him. That picture, along with the many shark tagging trips I’d taken with him in middle and high school, helped inspire me to apply to his Hammerschlag Shark Research and Conservation Lab here at the University where I have been a proud member for three years, have recently been selected as a Teacher’s Assistant, and have plans to work on a marine microplastic research project with him in Toronto, Canada.

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For the release of Years of Living Dangerously, we hosted an exclusive red carpet premiere here in Miami at the the Tower Theatre in Little Havana. I interviewed many of the characters featured in the episode, as well as many local scientists and politicians so viewers could learn about their work. It was a pleasure to also interview Dr. Hammerschlag and his wife, Dr. Caroline Hammerschlag who was coincidentally my AP Environmental Science teacher at the time. Yeah, you sure could say that billboard on the Society’s offices and his work with Nat Geo and UM have had a life changing impact on me.

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And there was National Geographic once again, in 2017, changing my life by honoring me as an inaugural National Geographic Teen Service Award Winner for my educational work and activism. I am ever so grateful to be selected, much less to be the first, and to use that honor to draw attention to our climate crisis and plight.

And as incredible as being associated with that show or receiving that honor was the magazine is, well, different. It’s an iconic publication that has been sharing thought provoking stories and images with the world since 1888. And, in an increasingly digital world that has seen far too many print publications cease to exist, I am happy to report that over 5.1 million people subscribe to National Geographic today.

And I am also proud, ever so proud, to be associated with the magazine in an article about youth climate activists. People like Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, a plaintiff in the federal lawsuit against our government that seeks climate justice, the counter part to the Florida suit (Reynolds v. State of Florida) that I am leading. Or Rabab Ali, an 11 year old Pakistani woman who has sued her government over the right to have a healthy environment. Or Greta Thunberg whose Friday Climate School Strikes have inspired countless young people to find their voices and demand change. And all the others. I do hope that you will read the feature and, as you do, I hope you will consider finding your voice, raising your hand and standing up for our mutual future before it’s too late.

Allow me to end by thanking a few people who worked to share my story and those of the other people featured in the article.

First, thanks so very much to Laura Parker who wrote the story and is a staff writer at National Geographic where she focuses on climate change and our marine environment. For a college kid like me that’s majoring in Marine Science and minoring in Climate Science and Policy, Laura was a dream to work with. Over the course of months we spent a great deal of time talking about my concerns and the need for action and Laura understood every word. Laura, thank you for sharing with the world that young people are not only seriously concerned, but that our concerns must be taken seriously.

National Geographic is most certainly known for its stunning, award winning pictures and with that in mind I’d like to humbly thank Victoria Will for taking mine for this feature. As she flew into Miami from another assignment in Colorado I was not sure what to expect but over the day we spent together at Miami’s Matheson Hammock Park, a place I learned to swim and have returned to many times to help educate people about our climate change crisis, it was obvious that she and her assistant Savannah Shipman were equal parts professionals and artists.

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The day started along the Biscayne Bay shoreline, the city of Miami sparkling off in the distance, but soon evolved into the mangrove forests that help make the park so magical and ultimately we waded off into the middle of the same salt water lagoon, dress and all, that as a young child I learned to swim in. Visitors walked the sand beach that surrounds the lagoon and must have wondered what in the world that young woman was doing in a dress with water up to her chest, much less the photographer with one camera after another shooting pictures but I knew I was in great hands. Victoria was incredibly friendly and kind in her comments about my work, its importance, and being involved in this issue. She truly touched my heart. Little did I know that Victoria is a Princeton University graduate “celebrity portraiture” who has photographed some of the most famous people on the planet including Leonardo DiCaprio, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon, Adam Driver, and Selena Gomez to name just a few. To learn more about Victoria’s work please visit www.victoriawill.com and you will see what I mean when I say I am humbled that she graced me, this issue, and story with her artistry.

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And finally, a special thanks to everyone at National Geographic. The work you do, the stories you tell and the images you share have long been globally important, but are more important now than ever. In a world that’s often confused or distracted by “reality television” or “alternative facts”, you share the truth in unique and thought provoking ways that truly matter. For what all of you do, much less for the indelible role you have played in my life and that of my family’s for generations, thank you and keep up the most excellent work.

Reynolds v. State of Florida Update

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Over the last few years I have come to learn first-hand that the “wheels of justice” often truly do move slowly as they say. When seven of my friends and I filed our landmark environmental lawsuit against the State of Florida seeking climate justice in April 2018, I was “just” 18. And today, as I am pleased to share news that our first Hearing in the case has been scheduled for April 21st, I am approaching 21.

Three judges assigned to our case and many motions by the State asking the Court to dismiss the suit later, the very first Hearing for Reynolds v. State of Florida is scheduled to take place by Zoom video conference at 1 PM. The delays and such aside holding it on April 21st, just one day before the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day (which takes place on April 22) is pretty poetic.

In October of last year we filed a motion adding allegations about recent ways Florida government’s officials have made the climate crisis worse.  A Hearing on that motion was scheduled for January 8th but two days before the Hearing, the Governor’s office stipulated to our request and the Hearing was cancelled. At that time the Court signed an order granting our motion and allowed us to supplement our briefing on the government’s pending motions to dismiss the case.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the State, Governor DeSantis, Agricultural Commissioner Fried or other elected “leaders” are serious about putting a stop to the pollution that is killing our state’s natural resources and harming our citizens. Their actions speak far louder than the buzz words they use when speaking to voters. In fact, recent actions by both DeSantis and Fried make their and the State’s ongoing dedication to an energy system based on the fossil fuels that principally cause the pollution clear.

Governor DeSantis has recently certified a large scale fossil fuel based project at TECO’s Big Bend Facility. He’s also done little to nothing to take actual action on our climate change crisis or sea level rise. His appointment of Julia Nesheiwat as Florida’s first Chief Resilience Officer received much positive fanfare and made folks pause to think progress could be made yet, other than travel around the state for photo ops and feel good speeches, she did nothing what-so-ever before predictably moving on to serve President Trump as Homeland Security Advisor. And what has the Governor done since Nesheiwat left her role in Resiliency? Nothing. He’s not replaced anyone in the position. #SheepsClothing.

To some, Commissioner Fried seemed ideologically well positioned to lead a fight for change, yet has since gone so far as to call for an end to the energy efficiency conservation goal setting program and has openly supported an energy system powered by fossil fuels. Simply stated, if Commissioner Fried were truly serious about addressing Florida’s climate change crisis, then she should end her opposition to our lawsuit and join us. The fact that she continues to oppose our desire for change says far more than some political speech she might give that’s geared to getting votes ever could. #DisappointedButNotSurprised.

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I want to again thank my brave young friends for their fortitude and passion. Thanks to Valholly, Luxia, Andres, Oscar, Oliver, Isaac, and Levi. I want everyone to know that the eight of us are in this for the long term. We know this will not be an easy fight, nor a fast one, but we also know it’s the most important issue that our generation will ever confront and how we fix the problem will define our time here on earth. I know that I speak for the other children when I say that if takes us a lifetime of litigation, then so be it. We will not rest until things truly change.

I also want to thank our amazing legal team for their passion and care. Listening to our concerns, often shared laced with anger and/or tears, can’t be easy but your support and guidance means more than I could ever say. So thanks to all of our lawyers and most especially Mitch, Andrea and Dick. You are more than our lawyers now, you are our friends and soldiers in our fight for what is just.

I look forward to our first day in court and celebrating this historic step while celebrating a historic Earth Day milestone at the same time. Just poetic in every way.

10,800%

Getting 200 of the world’s nations to agree on the steps needed to shift away from mankind’s century-long love affair with fossil fuels to clean, sustainable solutions might be the largest task humanity has ever undertaken together. As hard as I imagine it was to recover from devastating world wars and any number of horrible historic humanitarian crises, these could look small in dollars and the fortitude it will take for the citizens of the world to work together to solve our global climate crisis before it’s too late.

And because of that, the work that the United Nations is doing to address our climate crisis, including the recent Conference of the Parties (COP) in Madrid, is important for many reasons including:

2019 was the year that the University of Oxford’s Oxford University Press named “climate emergency” as its “word” (phrase) of the year after the use of those two words increased 10,800% between September 2018 and September 2019. Five or six years ago when I began my climate change work here at The Sink or Swim Project many people were unaware that earth was warming, much less the key reasons for these changes and their repercussions. As 2020 begins it’s clear that whether from Oxford University, research by Yale University or other sources, people all over the world now know that we have a problem and are increasingly being subject to its impact.

2019 was also the year that the United Nations issued its most recent forecast on earth’s temperatures and whether our society is doing enough, fast enough, to offset the worst impacts of our climate change crisis. In October, 2019 the IPCC illustrated that we are not making the type of progress needed to sufficiently influence future warming including the 2015 Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. You can review that report by clicking here.

Led by the United States in Paris in 2015, the world’s nations, nearly 200 of them, agreed that society must keep global warming under 2 degrees Celsius versus pre-industrial revolution levels and set a goal to work together to keep temperatures from rising no more than 1.5 degrees. The recent United Nations’ report, and the pathetic results from COP 25 in Madrid, again illustrate just how hard it will be to achieve these goals and the importance that the nations of the world have measurable goals and rules needed to attain them if we are to ever solve this crisis.

What was accomplished during two weeks of climate discussions in Madrid?

Not much.

“Once again, no progress has been made to bring countries more in line with the 1.5 degrees target of the Paris Agreement. Very strict rules are an absolute necessity and old untrustworthy CO-2 credits have to be scrapped. That has not happened in Madrid, the summit ended without a deal.”

Bas Eickhout, European Parliament Member

The United States is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world today (and historically has been the largest), yet our current President, calling it a “bad deal,” has announced that our country will withdraw from the Paris Agreement this year. Lacking the United States’ vision, deep engagement and leadership in solving the crisis, the world is a different place today than it was in 2015. Words like “failure” and “disarray” are being used to summarize the outcome in Madrid.

I am disappointed with the results of #COP25. The international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on  mitigation, adaptation & finance to tackle the climate crisis. But we must not give up, and I will not give up.

António Guterres, United Nation’s Chairman, December 15, 2019

And while many of the world’s biggest nations – Australia, Brazil and, sadly, the United States – seem intent on “kicking the can down the road” as they say, doing little or consciously overlooking the issue, the people that I talk to at my lectures and other events are intent on learning, are openly wondering about what will happen, craving leadership and increasingly express being worried. I am worried too and the lack of progress at a global meeting on the climate change crisis that draws nearly 200 nations yet gets little done should concern us all.

Speaking of Oxford as I was, the University wrote in November, 2019 that 70% of British citizens live in areas which have already declared a climate emergency.

70% (!).

In one country.

In 2019.

Keeping in mind that the repercussions from our warming climate have only just begun and are about to get far worse without significant action by you and me and our governments, it is not surprising that a recent poll found that 52% of people in the United Kingdom are “very concerned” about climate change. What’s significant about that poll and figure is that just five years ago only 18% were “very concerned”.

People are listening. Reading. Learning.

Sure, the lack of meaningful action in Madrid is disappointing, but there are encouraging signs all around us that a world-wide movement, one often led by the youngest in society, to address this crisis is not only alive and well but growing. Significantly growing. No matter what you hear from politicians in Washington, San Paolo or other places intent on protecting the polluters, don’t overlook the use of the phrase “climate emergency” increasing by 10,800% in a year’s time or that the number of people in an entire country that call themselves “very concerned” about that very same emergency would triple in five years time.

People are starting to see the effects.

They are starting to widely understand that the world must come together to solve this problem.

And we, and by “we” I mean all of us with voices and votes and currency and feelings the world over, are finally on the verge of demanding that all political and business leaders understand the climate emergency and are focused on fixing it.

No more meetings that do nothing. Otherwise those so called “leaders” will need to understand that we will replace them and/or boycott their products and services in favor of those who are serious about solving the issue and that’s not intended as a threat or “big” talk or what-not.

It’s reality.

It’s what 10,800% tells me.

That percentage and these other figures illustrate that we are leaving an era of early education, one of tolerance, and are now entering an era of action because people increasingly know that the “climate emergency” is upon us and that the time to fix the problem has arrived at the dawn of the new decade that is 2020.

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