The largest youth activist gathering sets its sights on the Florida Capitol

Ginger Pickett, 20, a UF entomology student, dressed as a monarch butterfly, speaks to the crowd at Sunrise Movement Gainesville’s Green New Deal demonstration at the corner of West University Avenue and Southwest 13th Street on Jan. 19, 2024.
Kat Tran/WUFT News
Ginger Pickett, 20, a UF entomology student, dressed as a monarch butterfly, speaks to the crowd at Sunrise Movement Gainesville’s Green New Deal demonstration at the corner of West University Avenue and Southwest 13th Street on Jan. 19, 2024.

A coalition of young climate activists, called the Green New Deal for UF, will speak out against various environmental bills.

More than 200 youth activists of all ages from throughout Florida will go to the state Capitol on Tuesday and Wednesday to urge elected officials to take action on climate change.

Organizers describe this year’s event as the largest gathering of youth climate activists in state history.

A coalition of young climate activists is calling for a Green New Deal for UF.

These students are part of a larger national campaign that demands universities transition to “a more equitable, accountable zero-carbon economy,” said Cameron Driggers, 19, a University of Florida business administration major and the executive director of Youth Action Fund, a collective of student activists who provide resources and stipend programs for youth campaigns in Florida.

Cameron Driggers, 19, a UF business administration student, and Meagan Laney, 19, a UF sustainability student, speak at the Sunrise Movement Gainesville’s Green New Deal demonstration at the corner of West University Avenue and Southwest 13th Street on Jan. 19, 2024.
Kat Tran/WUFT News
Cameron Driggers, 19, a UF business administration student, and Meagan Laney, 19, a UF sustainability student, speak at the Sunrise Movement Gainesville’s Green New Deal demonstration at the corner of West University Avenue and Southwest 13th Street on Jan. 19, 2024.

The coalition is composed of members from several student organizations, including Sunrise Movement, Climate Action Gator and Youth Action Fund, which will also participate in the upcoming Reclaim Florida’s Future for All (RFF) event at the state Capitol.

Other organizations involved in this effort include the CLEO Institute, ReThink Energy Florida, Sierra Club and the Climate Reality Project, which gives young people access to more institutional resources, Driggers said.

From left, Matthew Wilson, 20, a University of Florida environmental science student, prepares for the Sunrise Movement Gainesville's Green New Deal demonstration with UF psychology students Michael Valuta, 21, and Gavin Hard, 21, at the corner of West University Avenue and Southwest 13th Street on Jan. 19, 2024. <br/>
Kat Tran/WUFT News
From left, Matthew Wilson, 20, a University of Florida environmental science student, prepares for the Sunrise Movement Gainesville’s Green New Deal demonstration with UF psychology students Michael Valuta, 21, and Gavin Hard, 21, at the corner of West University Avenue and Southwest 13th Street on Jan. 19, 2024.

“We want our elected officials to recognize and see that climate change is real and it is happening right now,” Hanna Yamaguchi, 22, Sunrise Movement Orlando coordinator said.

There are three main bills RFF attendees want state lawmakers to address: Mangrove Replanting and Restoration (HB 1581), Heat Illness Prevention (HB 945) and Renewable Natural Gas (HB 683).

The first bill requires the Department of Environmental Protection to adopt rules for mangrove replanting and restoration and other nature-based solutions as it can protect communities against floods.

The second bill requires employers to implement outdoor heat exposure safety program training and rules.

Of the three bills, the RFF activists oppose the Renewable Natural Gas bill (HB 683), which encourages counties and municipalities to develop regional solutions to certain energy issues and use renewable natural gas resources.

A group of young climate activists listens to speakers at Sunrise Movement Gainesville’s Green New Deal demonstration at the corner of West University Avenue and Southwest 13th Street on Jan. 19, 2024.
Kat Tran/WUFT News
A group of young climate activists listens to speakers at Sunrise Movement Gainesville’s Green New Deal demonstration at the corner of West University Avenue and Southwest 13th Street on Jan. 19, 2024.

“New natural gas pipelines and infrastructure will encourage the continued use of fossil fuels for decades. We should encourage more renewable energy, not more investments into energy resources that will emit greenhouse gasses,” Yamaguchi said.

On Tuesday, participants plan to train and prepare for the following day, which is when they plan to lobby in front of the Capitol, attend press conferences and diverge into small group meetings with state lawmakers.

Campbell Al-Khafaji, 19, a UF sustainability studies major, said she is looking forward to being a part of the legislative process and lobbying as a whole.

“I’m excited by the fact that it can be grassroots. It can be people that care and just want to make their voices heard.”

The coalition of young climate activists listens to speakers at Sunrise Movement Gainesville’s Green New Deal demonstration at the corner of West University Avenue and Southwest 13th Street on Jan. 19, 2024. <br/>
Kat Tran/WUFT News
The coalition of young climate activists listens to speakers at Sunrise Movement Gainesville’s Green New Deal demonstration at the corner of West University Avenue and Southwest 13th Street on Jan. 19, 2024.

In these smaller group sessions, members will be assigned various roles such as group leader and note taker.

“One person is going to start off by telling their climate story, explaining why this bill is so important and how it might impact them,” Sofia Aviles, 21, UF political science and sustainability major explained.

Pushing for a yes or no answer, another group member will then ask the big question.

“‘Are you going to support this bill?’” Aviles demonstrated.

Some groups will not touch on the same issues, and instead will use the conversations in Tallahassee as frameworks for local campaigns and their agendas, Matt Ellis-Ramírez, 24, Sunrise Movement Miami Coordinator said.

“What comes around with the heat illness protection bill is the way we think about the climate crisis. It is very connected to jobs and people’s well-being,” Ellis-Ramírez said. “We see politicians prioritize the benefits of corporations instead of the needs of foreign working-class people in Miami.”

Yamaguchi said she believes a lot of natural gas and oil and retail companies producing fossil fuels contribute to the process of greenwashing when companies market themselves with eco-friendly labels and statements that do not combat the climate crisis.

“Florida is one of the first places to see the effects of climate change. We just want to make sure that our elected officials are actually voting for the people as opposed to big corporations,” she said.

Last year was the warmest year as the average combined land and ocean global temperature reached 15.08°C (59.14°F), two degrees Fahrenheit higher than the 20th century global average temperature of 13.9°C (57.0°F), according to a 2023 annual global climate report by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Centers for Environmental Information.

“The global average temperature has increased about 1.2°C since global records began in 1850,” David Keellings, 38, a UF physical geography professor said. “There are some places in the world that are warming more than that, and there are a few places that have gotten colder. Overall, the trend is warming as we think about it globally.”

Keellings said he felt the United Nations Paris Climate Accord adopted in 2015, which the U.S. originally joined in 2016 and later rejoined in 2021 under the Biden Administration, was the first time many countries came together to address climate change.

The Paris Climate Agreement is an international treaty created by the UN that addresses climate change by limiting global warming to 1.5°C (34.7°F) pre-industrial levels of the early 20th century and ensuring it does not rise to 2.0°C (35.6°F).

Florida Annual Average Temperature (°F)

In a 2022 study published by the American Geophysical Union, researchers found that the Earth will likely reach 2°C of global warming by the 2040s if no significant policy changes occur.

In 2017, the U.S. withdrew from the Paris Agreement, under the Trump Administration, due to “the unfair economic burden imposed on American workers, businesses, and taxpayers by U.S. pledges made under the Agreement,” in a 2019 press release by the Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo.

“Maybe some people would argue for market forces and innovation as a solution and maybe some other folks may argue regulation and taxation as a solution,” Keellings said.

Based on the report by the Southeast Regional Climate Center, there has been an overall increasing trend in Florida’s average annual temperature since 1895.

“A lot of the sun’s energy bounces back off of the Arctic ice and goes back into space like a big mirror. It doesn’t cause any warming in the Arctic, but as the global atmosphere warms, we’ve got less ice and the Arctic is melting,” Keellings explained.

Now, the mirror is shrinking, and the sunlight that comes into the Arctic is now being absorbed more by the water and is not being reflected into space, he said.

Conceptualized as the climate gap, the effects of the climate crisis disproportionately impact frontline communities — low-income communities and working-class communities of color, Yamaguchi explained.

“When people being impacted the most don’t have time to lobby and talk to their representatives, this is an opportunity to uplift these communities and share their concerns,” she said.

Driggers said he felt like many young passionate people have the resolve to fight for change but do not have the proper guidance, direction or resources.

“We should be investing in young people and cutting out the middleman to just give them the resources to do what they want to do,” he said. “You’ll see that it is way more successful.”

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