Roberta “Bosey” Fulbright Foote Prize

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I am truly fortunate to live my academic dream every day here at the University of Miami where I am now a Junior in the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS) while pursuing a double major in Marine Science and Geology, as well as a minor in Climate Policy. The University and RSMAS are perhaps the best academic institution of its type in the world and I just love it. I know that’s a bit of a “nerdy” thing to say about one’s school but it’s also true. The world-class professors. My classes. Our facilities. My classmates. Our Administration. I even love walking (and right now very much miss this due to COVID-19) through our gorgeous subtropical campus environment and admiring the amazing landscaping that’s everywhere you look. It’s great, as we say around here, to be a Miami Hurricane.

But today, on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, brings me a humbling surprise from the University that I will forever cherish and would like to also share with you. In the midst of a terrible pandemic, our ever growing climate crisis, and political discord that I worry about every day, comes an incredible honor within the following letter to me from Dr. Julio Frenk, President of the University of Miami.

Dear Delaney,

Congratulations! You are a recipient of the Roberta “Bosey” Fulbright Foote Prize. It is my honor to bestow on you the attached certificate commemorating this recognition of your important contributions to the sustainability and environmental stewardship of the University of Miami campus.

We hope you will watch a special video announcement on this 50th Anniversary of Earth Day. The University website for all of today’s virtual activities is https://greenu.miami.edu/topics/nature/earth-day/index.html.

With my best wishes for your health and safety,

Julio Frenk, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D.
President, University of Miami
Interim CEO, University of Miami Health System
Professor of Public Health Sciences

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The letter, and the certificate he kindly shared, is incredible but to think that such a busy professional, someone on the front line of fighting COVID-19 in our community and world would take time to film the 5 minute (!) video about Earth Day and the winners of this auspicious award is just a remarkable testimony to why I so love this place. The University is a special institution filled with special people doing monumental, lasting, work and that’s clear from Dr. Frenk’s comments in announcing the Roberta “Bosey” Fulbright Foote Prize when he wrote the following to the entire U of Miami Community:

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, a call to action for the protection of our environment, which was inspired by student activism and unity around shared ideals. Earth Day is now celebrated in nearly 200 countries, serving as an annual reminder of the interconnectedness of our global community.

The historic times in which we are living bring this interconnectedness into clear focus. Now, more than ever, we see how individual actions affect collective wellbeing. If there is a silver lining to sheltering in place, it is that we have slowed down activities that have a damaging impact on our planet. The human family is getting the opportunity to reimagine our routines. We are getting a glimpse of possibilities—from telehealth to virtual events—that have the potential to help us lighten our carbon footprint and preserve irreplaceable habitats.

This morning, I announced the 2020 winners of the Roberta “Bosey” Fulbright Foote Prize , which recognizes individuals in the University of Miami community who make meaningful and lasting contributions to the beauty and sustainability of our campus. This year’s winners include a group who led teach-ins to educate the University community on environmental matters and buried a time capsule on the first Earth Day, along with a current junior recently recognized among global young activists in National Geographic magazine. They beautifully demonstrate the vision and spirit of service that ’Canes have in common across generations.

Thank you, Dr. Frenk, and thanks to everyone at the University of Miami for your dedication to sustainability, environmental stewardship, and forward-thinking vision to make every aspect of our world a better place on Earth Day and all the other days of the year. Like I said, It’s Great To Be A Miami Hurricane.

Whether COVID-19 or Climate Change, Trust in Science

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Today, more than ever, science and scientists are the key to our collective futures. Doctors and nurses are heroically saving lives while putting their own lives at risk in the process. Chemists and biologists will soon be saviors when they invent a cure. As we seek expert solutions to the pandemic, it is my hope that the COVID-19 crisis will make clear the profound importance of science and scientists to our society. And when it comes to our climate crisis, respect for science can help us all unite to solve the crisis by better understanding the scientific research that predicts, for example, that coastal communities including South Florida are at risk of extinction from sea level rise.

Consider a new scientific study that illustrates how grave the future is unless society quickly moves away from fossil fuels and embraces sustainable energy everywhere. Researchers from the University of Illinois, University of Hawaii, and the U.S. government studied over 200 tide gauges and concluded that in about 30 years the accelerating speed of sea level rise will cause what are today rare flooding events to become annual occurrences for over 70% of the U.S. coastline, according to the study published in Scientific Reports. And by 2100, flooding currently considered a once in a lifetime event will become a daily high tide occurrence for more than 90% of coastal communities.

These scenarios threaten to cause billions of dollars in damage, along with the very viability of some communities to exist. Major cities such as Honolulu, New Orleans, and yes, Miami, the place I call home, will become increasingly vulnerable to flooding and stronger storms fueled by the global heating caused by human activity. The time is past due to listen to the science and act accordingly.

Thankfully, the world’s youth get it. We are deeply worried about the climate crisis and those concerns permeate political affiliation, race, religion, or economic standing. As we mark the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, consider the diversity of young people profiled in the April National Geographic article Fighting for Their Future, highlighting young climate activists from Rwanda, Nepal, Sweden, Canada, England, and including myself from Miami. We embrace the science and want to see our governments quickly lead us into a sustainable future before it’s too late for places we love like No Name Key, Miami, and the Everglades that are at risk of being forever lost due to our fossil fuel use.

And that’s why, in April 2018, seven of my friends and I filed a lawsuit, Reynolds v. State of Florida, against the State of Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis, Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein, the Florida Department of Agriculture Agriculture and Commissioner Nikki Fried, the Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund and the Public Service Commission.

We believe to our core that Floridians have a constitutional right to a stable climate system and that the state government is actively contributing to our climate catastrophe by supporting an antiquated energy system based on fossil fuels. They are demonstrating a deliberate indifference to our fundamental rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. In doing so, they are violating the Florida Constitution.

We are asking the judiciary to order the government to protect our constitutional rights and create a climate recovery plan to transition Florida’s energy system to one based on clean energy solutions before it’s too late. We believe that when government actions infringe on our constitutional rights, then we must look to the judiciary for protection.

Like the amazing scientists responsible for keeping us safe during the COVID-19 crisis, our legal system should protect our constitutional rights. And just as our scientists will solve the pandemic, it is my hope that at our first hearing, now scheduled for June 1, that Florida’s court system will protect our constitutional rights to a stable climate before it’s too late.

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.

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