Youth climate activists come to Tallahassee, calling for ‘immediate and bold action’

 Kim Ross with ReThink Energy Action Florida speaking at a press conference in Tallahassee on Jan. 24, 2024 (photo credit: Mitch Perry)

Youth climate activists gathered on the steps of the Old Capitol building in Tallahassee Wednesday morning with a direct message for state lawmakers: Start taking “immediate and bold action on climate change.”

But there’s a quantum distance between what the activists desire and what the GOP-controlled Legislature is actually doing in the 2024 session regarding the issue.

“We have seen the fossil fuel industry successfully escape accountability through its many allies in the Legislature,” acknowledged Cameron Driggers, the founder and executive director with the Youth Action Fund, at the press conference.

“We have seen local initiatives to reduce carbon emissions banned from taking effect … now more than ever, it is time for Florida’s young people to channel our passionate resolve for immediate climate action directly to the decision makers in this state. We are tired of being seen but not heard. Florida is on the frontlines of this crisis and refuse to wait around and wait for our leaders to act like it.”

“It is adamantly clear that the state of Florida is not doing enough to address the climate crisis,” added Sarahi Perez, lead organizer with the genCLEO Action Fund and the first youth board member of the Climate Resilience Committee for the city of Miami. “The urgency of the people need to be reflected in the legislation. It is a necessity to ensure that climate change is a priority, and it starts here today.”

Perhaps there is no greater issue that illustrates the divide between what climate activists are hoping to get from state lawmakers on climate change and what they are likely to get this year when it comes to dealing with the extreme heat in Florida — specifically in terms of providing heat protections for outdoor workers.

“Florida saw extreme heat temperatures like we have never seen before,” said Yoca Arditi-Rocha, the executive director with the CLEO Institute. “2023 was the hottest year on record for humans ever saw.” (Last July was the hottest July in the state’s history, according to the Florida Climate Center.)

Arditi-Rocha said her organization was intently focused on two bills introduced at the beginning of this legislative session designed to address extreme heat when it comes to outdoor workers in Florida: HB 45 in the House, introduced by South Florida Democratic Rep. Mike Gottlieb, and SB 762, by Tampa Bay area Democratic Sen. Darryl Rouson.

The measures call for an employer who has employees who work in an outdoor environment to implement an outdoor heat exposure safety program to be approved by the Department of Agriculture and Department of Health that trains and informs supervisors and employees about heat illness, as well as provide water and 10-minute breaks every two hours for employees when an employer, manager, supervisor or contractor determines that the outdoor heat index equals or exceeds 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

The proposals come after at least two farmworkers in South Florida died because of working in excessive heat earlier last year.

But the reality in Tallahassee this month is that while neither Gottlieb nor Rouson’s bills have yet to be heard in any committee, another bill sponsored by Lee County Republican Tiffany Esposito (HB 433) would take away the power of local governments from implementing their own ordinances with heat exposure safety requirements in workplaces. It has already been approved by one committee in the House.

This proposal comes after organizers in Miami-Dade County spent months last year working on creating what would have been the only local government in the nation to provide heat-related protections for outdoor workers in the construction and agriculture industries. However, that proposal has been substantially watered down due to lobbying by business interests and won’t come back up for a potential vote until March.

“We call on Florida legislators to give employers and their workers the safety measures to be better protected in a warming world,” Arditi-Rocha said. “It’s only human to do so. And we call them to protect all Floridians, not the few powered interests seeking to drain literally all the sweat out of their workers.”

Kim Ross is the executive director with ReThink Energy Florida. She said the state owed it to young people to begin taking climate change seriously.

“The impact of our warming planet keeps getting more dire,” she said. “The heat from last summer was incredibly painful and deadly. The rain bombs we saw, the storms. What we saw in the last year was just a hint of what’s to come. And while we can plan for sunny day flooding and while the Legislature has put good money into adapting to sea level rise, we cannot adapt our way out of this.”

Groups who participated included activists from the CLEO Institute, ReThink Energy Florida, genCLEO Action Fund, Sierra Club Florida, Sunrise Movement, Youth Action Fund and OurClimate.

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