Misplaced Priorities

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One of my great fortunes in growing up in South Florida has been reading the Miami Herald from an early age and, thus, being exposed to the brilliant American commentator and novelist Leonard Pitts Jr.  Calling Mr. Pitts a Columnist or Opinion Writer somehow seems too shallow for someone so gifted, someone who so frequently makes me think, wonder, and, yes, worry. Each time I think I’ve read his most profound piece he proves me wrong with yet another thought-provoking commentary. Candidly, I think of him more as a poet, someone whose thoughts and words deeply touch my soul while he also serves as a consciousness of our culture.

As ever, Mr. Pitts’ column this weekend proves why I so love and appreciate his Pulitzer Prize winning work. The potable water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi is a tragedy beyond comprehension but was avoidable had the real needs of its residents been a priority for local, state, and our national government. Unfortunately, as happens in places like Jackson (and Miami) all over the planet, impoverished people are too often overlooked, and their needs marginalized, as so-called leaders prioritize politics and profits over public service. Like the water in Jackson, it makes me sick.

In such a wonderful country filled with good people, we should each ask ourselves daily how we could possibly allow our political discourse to go so far astray of what’s important to our lives and what we owe to future generations that follow. By spending so much time on imagined, fictitious threats by pandering to a minority of ill-informed people, we are missing important opportunities to address the real issues of our lifetimes, including a failing American infrastructure and only the most significant threat our planet has ever faced: the man-made climate crisis that’s causing the “freakish weather” Mr. Pitts writes about this weekend.

Can you imagine the problems we collectively could solve if some would stop wasting time propagating fictitious fears about election lies, as just one for example, and went about solving real issues related to our roads, water, sewer systems, and, yes, our warming climate? Think about it. Telling a minority of Americans what they want to hear rather than the truth fills our minds and media with mind numbing trash and that is shameful. Far too many elected leaders or candidates for office this year are still propagating a lie that the 2020 election was stolen when something like 60 or so courts, many of them with judges seated by our former President himself, have ruled that our current President was legally and democratically elected. The suggestion otherwise is a colossal waste of time, but it is also a tactic that many increasingly believe threatens our very democracy, much less something so seemingly simple as ensuring that our citizens have water.

If you have not read Mr. Pitts regularly in the past, I can’t think of a better place to start than with his thoughts on “misplaced priorities” this weekend. It’s a bit about water in Jackson but more so about much deeper things that each of us must consider as we decide what our legacy will be during our lifetimes here on earth.

Good luck getting a glass of water in Jackson

When it came to making sure 150,000 people had water to drink, Mississippi had more important things to do. But then, poor and/or dark-skinned people are often taken for granted.

There is no water in Jackson, Mississippi.

Not at this writing, at least. At this writing, the nearly 150,000 residents of the state capital have been advised that even if they are able to coax some of the precious liquid from their taps — water pressure is feeble — it is unsafe for drinking, bathing, or washing dishes.

Note, please, that they were already under a boil-water order — the latest in a series. Then heavy rains and flooding overwhelmed the primary water treatment plant in a city where some of the pipes date to the days Model Ts still trundled dirt roads and biplanes carved the skies. Gov. Tate Reeves was unable to say in a Monday night briefing when the situation might be rectified.

So there is no water in Jackson.

And Mississippi should be embarrassed. But Mississippi should not be surprised. To the contrary, it has known for many years that the city’s water infrastructure was too old and brittle to serve its needs. They saw the crisis coming, but they did not avert it.

Mind you, because he was concerned about education that “aims to only humiliate and indoctrinate,” the governor did sign a bill making it impossible to teach “critical race theory” in schools.

And because he wanted to “protect young girls,” he did sign a bill barring transgender student athletes from participating in sports that correspond with their gender identity.

And because he grieved “63 million babies” aborted since 1973, he did sign a bill banning almost all abortions.

He acted to avert those “threats.” But good luck getting a glass of water in Jackson.

All that said, this is not really a column about Jackson. Or, for that matter, water. It is, rather, a column about misplaced priorities. That seems a constant theme where people of color and poor people are concerned, so no one will be surprised to hear that eight in 10 Jacksonians are African American, while one in four is poor. Nor should it stun anyone to hear that experts say Jackson’s woes grow from a sediment of white flight and malign neglect. When it came to making sure 150,000 people had water to drink, Mississippi had more important things to do. But then, poor and/or dark-skinned people are often taken for granted.

Poor and/or dark-skinned people are also the ones who often function as the proverbial canary in the coal mine.

Thus, it is worth noting that while white flight and malign neglect are the foundation of this disaster, its proximate cause is simpler: freakish weather broke a decrepit system. And freakish weather, not to put too fine a point on it, is not limited to poor people, Black people, or Jackson. Indeed, climate change having been allowed to reach a state of daily crisis, freakish weather is rapidly becoming normal weather for us all.

One wonders, then, how much longer we can continue misplacing priorities, embracing would-be “leaders” who focus on fighting culture wars, on offering the addictive sugar high of performative thrusts against despised Others — “Take that, critical race theory!” — even as pipes corrode, bridges age, the electrical grid fizzles, sewers clog, roads buckle and weather grows more freakish.

Here’s an idea. How about if we required those who govern to actually govern, i.e., to protect and maintain basic services and quality of life? How about if we valued simple competence over sugar highs? How might that be?

See, there is no water in Jackson. And yes, that’s an embarrassment for Mississippi.

But it’s a warning for us all.

August 9th, 2022: A Historic Day For Florida’s Environment

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I am pleased to share that earlier today the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ (FDACS) renewable energy rule, Chapter 5O-5: Renewable Energy, became effective. This new rule is perhaps the most significant climate policy ever established in Florida history and allows our state to take major steps towards a sustainable future without carbon pollution. The rule sets the following renewable energy goals for Florida’s electric utilities:

  • At least 40% by 2030,
  • 63% by 2035,
  • 82% by 2040, and
  • 100% by 2050.

These goals and the accompanying requirements were officially proposed in April 2022 by FDACS Commissioner Nikki Fried in response to a petition for rulemaking that three friends of mine and I filed in January 2022. The petition for rulemaking called on FDACS to require each electric utility that produces or purchases electricity for consumption in the State of Florida” to set and achieve goals to generate 100% of Florida’s electricity from renewable energy by 2050.” It remains amazing that four young people, two of which can’t yet even vote, had to force the State into enacting these rules, but I am deeply proud of the outcome and all Floridians should be too.

And speaking of pride, allow me to send a shout out to my amazing co-petitioners and long time friends: Valholly, Isaac, and Levi who have been with me, and I with them, every step of the way since 2018 when we sued Governor Rick Scott and more recently Governor DeSantis, as well as more recently pursued the FDACS petition that led to today’s rule. Also allow me to give a very special shout out to the hundreds of Florida youth all over our state that signed on to our petition and had their voices about Florida’s energy future heard loud and clear. To each of you please know that I am SO very proud of you and that you should be proud of the important role you played in helping us make this happen in Florida.

Here’s what my friend and our Senior Litigation Attorney from Our Children’s Trust, Andrea Rogers, had to say about the new rule and today’s news:

“This rule – the strongest climate policy enacted in Florida in over a decade – was only made possible because youth in Florida demanded climate action. Over 200 young Floridians signed the petition for rulemaking to set significant and achievable renewable energy goals, holding their government accountable for its contributions to the climate crisis and demanding meaningful action. Today, thanks to their determined efforts, present and future generations of Floridians are headed toward a safer, more sustainable energy future.”

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Andrea’s firm, Our Children’s Trust, and their team deserves tremendous credit for all of their hard work on helping me get this new rule established. Andrea, Mitch, Guy, David, Paul, and the rest of their team also represented and supported me and my three other lead youth petitioners in Reynolds v. State of Florida in 2018. Our Children’s Trust is doing amazing work as evidenced by today’s rule here in Florida, as well as cases all over our planet including Navahine F. v. Hawai’i Department of Transportation, Held v. State of Montana (which, when it proceeds to trial in 2023, will be the first ever children’s climate trial in U.S. history) and, of course, their representation of 21 youth plaintiffs in the landmark federal constitutional climate lawsuit Juliana v. United States, who are awaiting a decision in their case that could also set the stage for trial in 2023 (and whose story can be found on the Netflix documentary Youth v Gov).

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Allow me to also sincerely thank Commissioner Fried and her staff including Stephen Sharpe and Shelby Scarpa for their support. Although the framework for today’s rule was established in 2006, it saddens me that for nearly two decades our State’s adult leaders did nothing to actually implement the required rules and that it took a few passionate youth to make the state take action that led to today’s rule, but we are grateful that each of you listened to our concerns. Future Floridians will be forever grateful to you for supporting us.

Our climate fight leaves little time to breathe sighs of relief but today’s news should allow us to all take a deep breath and consider a Florida where everyone can breathe clean air by 2050 as our energy system shifts to sustainable power as a result of today’s new rule. We have much more to do if we are to solve our climate crisis but today’s step here in the Sunshine State places Florida at the forefront of solutions here in the United States and around the world. Congratulations Florida and thank you for allowing me to play a small role in making Florida climate legislation history.

Roe, Roe, Roe Your Vote

I am not the tallest nor biggest person walking the planet but I do see myself as a strong, fierce, young woman. I believe to my core that our great nation should always embrace equality in every realm of our society whether that’s related to sex, gender, economics, race, environment, or any other measure. And I believe that our exquisite Constitution should protect each of us by providing us the undeniable right to make our own choices about our bodies and, for that matter, to be able to enjoy a safe, clean environment free of pollution. So, yes, the news that the current sitting Supreme Court would overturn a long-established law that is so important to so many people’s health, welfare, and freedoms is deeply disappointing. But at the same time it is not surprising whatsoever.

The Roberts Court, April 23, 2021   Seated from left to right: Justices Samuel A. Alito, Jr. and Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., and Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor   Standing from left to right: Justices Brett M. Kavanaugh, Elena Kagan, Neil M. Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett.   Photograph by Fred Schilling, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

This summer’s Supreme Court decision is not “just” the result of the sitting justices’ decisions, but decades of political strategy and steps taken all over this country to reverse Roe v. Wade, and the foundation of that effort is the most cherished part of America’s democracy: your right to vote for your political leaders.

When I speak publicly about our climate crisis the number one question (by far) that I am asked from audiences of all ages is “Delaney, what can I do to solve the problem?” And, while people often want to talk about replacing their incandescent lights, installing a solar power system, or evolving to electric vehicles, each an example of wonderful steps and solutions that I enthusiastically encourage, the answer to that question to is vote as if your life and our future depends on it. And that’s because our lives, freedoms, and, yes, very future are directly linked to you and I electing leaders at every level of our government that share our concerns. And to do that each of us must make voting our solemn duty. A priority and act like it is exactly what it is: a privilege at the very core of our democracy.

If you, like me, don’t like the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization 5-4 majority decision that will surely lead to the fall of Roe and will almost certainly open the flood gates to states all over the country to enact laws outlawing abortion in some fashion, if not entirely, then you can control what happens next in our collective futures. You control that future by voting for the people in your local community, state, and our country that make the issues you feel are important their priority and that share the passions, ideals, and solutions you feel should be embraced and implemented is the critical key.

Dog catcher. Sheriff. School Board. City/County/Town Commission and Mayor. Judges. If Roe should teach America a single civics lesson, it’s how important electing Judges that support your concerns are to protecting what we cherish. State offices of every type whether Commissioner of Agriculture, Finance, Insurance or the Governor. And yes, your House of Representative and Senator, the folks you send to Washington, and, of course, President. Every office. Every election.

I am still young but I have voted in every election I’ve been eligible to cast a vote in. I’ve made voting a priority and that’s what each of us should do or else we should expect a lot more decisions like Dobbs (Roe) to follow on a range of critical issues including equality and, yes, our environment. But here’s the thing, a pathetic number of Americans are registered to vote and of those that are, an even smaller number actually vote and until that changes we are deeply vulnerable.

Of those 18 and older only 73% of eligible Americans are registered to vote. In the most recent Presidential election, a national event that nearly always sees the largest number of voters go to the polls (or fill out mail in ballots), only 66.8% of registered voters actually voted. And that was in one of the most divisive elections in our nation’s history, an election that set records for voter turnout as compared to any other election this century. From the U.S. Census here are the numbers:

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Look at those numbers again. Barely more than ½ of all registered voters actually vote! Guess what? Those who want to elect leaders who want to end Roe, protect fossil fuel use, eliminate various marital rights, and attack countless other freedoms that an enlightened society should embrace darn well know that Americans are apathetic about voting. And those that want to destroy those hard fought freedoms, or our environment, have weaponized something you and I can control, our vote. Those that want to live in the past, leave things including things that are terribly broken alone or take America backwards, are doing everything in their power to ensure that enough people that support their views vote for their candidates.

Don’t believe me?

Then watch local school boards all over America politicized in an evangelical way by striking fear in communities over the notion that Critical Race Theory (“CRT” as one ad I heard on the radio this summer in Monroe County [the Florida Keys] called it) is being taught in primary schools despite evidence that that is not true. Or watch some of those running for State Treasurer or Chief Financial Officer roles make clear that by electing them they will not allow that state to support “woke” businesses become more sustainable at the peril of those that are polluting our environment into extinction.

Or, of course, consider that in 2016 barely 61% of registered voters showed up to elect a now twice impeached snake oil salesman President who, in turn, had the honor of appointing not one, not two, but three (Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett) Supreme Court Justices whose conservative philosophies followed his and his followers’ beliefs and in the process created a majority decision that eliminated Roe.

So, yes, I am very disappointed in the Dobbs decision that will certainly destroy an important, 50+ year old, established law (Roe) designed to protect women’s rights. But am I surprised? No, not at all. And that’s because we must do far better at answering the question I am so often asked (What can I do to help?) by voting in every election to ensure the leaders we want, whether in the courthouse or the statehouse or the White House, is who wins.

Primary elections are taking place this summer and mid-term, general elections take place this fall. Voting is easy and, as I hope I’ve made clear, incredibly important. If you can’t drive to the polls, ask a friend for a ride or take an Uber. Better yet, go with a group and make it a party! And if you can’t vote in person then go online and request a mail-in ballot but for gosh sake VOTE and keep voting for the rest of your life as if your lives and our futures depend on it (because they do).

In Florida to obtain a mail in ballot, visit https://dos.myflorida.com/elections/for-voters/voting/vote-by-mail

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