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An aerial view from a drone shows a street inundated with flood water on Dec. 23, 2019 in Hallandale, Florida. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

By Elizabeth Djinis

Florida has long been known as an environmental contradiction. It's mostly a peninsula at risk from the severe impacts of climate change, including rising seas, warming temperatures, and worsening extreme-weather events; yet it's also a state governed by Republican leaders who have refused to even publicly utter the words "climate change."

By Elizabeth Djinis

Florida has long been known as an environmental contradiction. It’s mostly a peninsula at risk from the severe impacts of climate change, including rising seas, warming temperatures, and worsening extreme-weather events; yet it’s also a state governed by Republican leaders who have refused to even publicly utter the words “climate change.”


When Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was elected in 2018, he appeared to be the archetypal Republican, proudly touting his endorsement from then-president Donald Trump. But DeSantis’s immediate actions on the environment surprised even die-hard Democrats. In his first year, he hired the state’s first chief resilience officer and recommended that more than $625 million be allocated to restoration of the Florida Everglades and protecting the state’s water resources.

Some Republican strategists say DeSantis has paved the way for a Florida legislature that is finally open to acting on climate change. The governor’s proposed state budget for 2021-2022 allocates $1 billion over four years for resiliency efforts in response to sea level rise, storm events, and localized flooding, and $25 million to offset harmful algal blooms and red tide.

At the same time, state leaders like Florida’s House speaker Chris Sprowls and Senate president Wilton Simpson are proposing a sweeping infrastructure package that would specifically designate consistent funds to mitigating sea level rise and flooding. It’s a stunning acceptance of a problem that, for too long, Republicans refused to even admit.

But many of Florida’s young climate activists say the focus is misplaced. Sure, it’s great that Republicans have finally recognized the threat posed by the climate crisis, but they are more concerned with dealing with the consequences than the causes. And Republicans are still reticent to use the term “climate change,” preferring the more palatable “resiliency,” which emphasizes bracing to withstand the impacts of climate change rather than enacting policies that could actually reduce carbon emissions.

“It’s gotten to the point in Florida where politicians really can’t ignore climate change and the cost of not investing in resilient infrastructure, because sea level rise is going to destroy our tourism industry,” says Mary-Elizabeth Estrada, 24, a climate organizer with the environmental nonprofit the CLEO Institute. “But a lot of the time it’s still money-centered as opposed to ‘how can we help the people?’ It’s

National GOP media strategist Adam Goodman, who splits his time between Washington, DC, and the Tampa Bay area, says DeSantis has opened the door for other Florida Republicans to follow in his footsteps. GOP leaders took note of the Florida governor’s popularity jump after he proposed allocating money to protect coastlines and preserve natural resources. Party leaders began to view environmental protections as a core Florida message rather than a partisan issue, Goodman tells Teen Vogue.

They have also keenly realized the alternative: Not acting on the environment could have severe economic consequences for the state and threaten the party’s dominance of state politics. “Republicans are learning that if they become more sensitive to the environment and climate change, they can then go back in the campaign process and policy process to some of their bread-and-butter conservative economics and careful growth policies,” Goodman explains. “If they don’t check this box, especially in a state like Florida, they are going to have a much more difficult time putting into play a conventional Republican agenda.”

Part of the impetus lies in experience. Florida Republicans, like all Floridians, are already experiencing climate change, whether it’s firsthand or through the perspectives of their constituents. Estrada has lobbied Democrats and Republicans on climate policy through her nonprofit roles, and she’s talked to legislators who mention increased flooding and rising tides in their own neighborhoods. “When it impacts you, I think that’s when you start to realize that this really is a problem,” Estrada says.

So far, Florida Republicans seem to be picking and choosing what climate issues they’re willing to engage on. Proposed legislation in the Florida Senate, for example, would bar local governments from restricting the types of energy production, like electricity or natural gas, that get supplied to customers by a utility company. Another bill would have given the state broad oversight on energy infrastructure regulation, prohibiting local governments from taking regulatory action on existing or new energy infrastructure; it has since been amended to apply only to gas stations and their related transportation infrastructure.

These moves are particularly unnerving because youth climate activists say much of Florida’s environmental progress has been made at the local level. Numerous Florida cities, including St. Petersburg, Orlando, and Gainesville, have taken the Sierra Club’s “Ready for 100” pledge to use 100% clean and renewable energy no later than 2050.

“In coastal communities like the Tampa Bay area and the Miami Beach area, there we do see elected officials on a local level who seem to really care and make big steps and move toward solar energy,” says Catarina Fernandez, a 20-year-old activist working as a fellow with Our Climate and studying the environment and society at Florida State University.

While youth activists tend to focus on national issues, buoyed by proposals like the Green New Deal and dynamic national representatives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, there’s so much more potential to get things done on the local level, according to Estrada. “People should realize the importance of local elections. That’s where you can really get stuff done,” she says. “On the local level, you can actually talk to city council members and your local state legislators.”

Even Florida Republican policies that appear positive on their face like Sprowls and Simpson’s plan to allocate recurring funding toward the effects of sea level rise and flooding — have a hidden underbelly. That money would come from a state trust fund that uses documentary stamp tax revenue from real estate transactions to fund affordable housing. The state has routinely tapped that fund to address various crises, and the Republicans’ proposal would also crystallize a policy wherein the funds meant mainly for affordable housing would be shared with those for sea level rise mitigation and wastewater grants.

This puts activists in a terrible position, pitting the housing justice movement against the environmental movement, Fernandez says. “That’s a fight nobody asked for,” she says. “I want climate resiliency measures, but do I want that at the expense of some of the most vulnerable communities here in Florida? No, not in a million years.”

Ultimately, young climate activists have had to take a pragmatic look at the limitations of what can be accomplished through policy. Fernandez says it is not the “end-all, be-all.” “If you’re living in a conservative state like Florida, it can be really hard to get that stuff off the ground,” she says. “You’re not really going to get policy changes unless you have the people behind you, and the way to get people behind you is by educating them and connecting with them and tapping them into these issues.”

Elizabeth Djinis is a writer and journalist based in St. Petersburg, Florida. Her work has been published by Poynter, The Dallas Morning News, The Tampa Bay Times, The Penny Hoarder and Sarasota Magazine, among others. Follow her on Twitter.

This story originally appeared in Teen Vogue and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

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Rise and Resist activist group marched together to demand climate and racial justice. Steve Sanchez / Pacific Press / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Alexandria Villaseñor

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

By Alexandria Villaseñor

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

My journey to becoming an activist began in late 2018. During a trip to California to visit family, the Camp Fire broke out. At the time, it was the most devastating and destructive wildfire in California history. Thousands of acres and structures burned, and many lives were lost. Since then, California’s wildfires have accelerated: This past year, we saw the first-ever “gigafire,” and by the end of 2020, more than four million acres had burned.


After experiencing California’s wildfires, I researched the connection between wildfires and climate change. Even though I was only 13 at the time, I realized I needed to do everything in my power to advocate for our planet and ensure that we have a safe and habitable Earth for not only my generation’s future, but for future generations. Every day, our planet is increasing its calls for our help. Our ice caps are melting; sea levels are rising; heatwaves and droughts are increasing. We’re seeing more frequent wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, and other extreme weather events. Climate change is happening right now, and people all over the world are losing their livelihoods — and even their lives — as a result of the growing number of climate-fueled disasters.

My activism started with the youth climate strike movement, which began when Greta Thunberg started striking in front of the Swedish Parliament in 2018. However, I want to acknowledge that young people, especially youth of color, have been protesting and demanding action for the planet for decades. I’m honored to follow in the footsteps of all the youth activists who paved the way for my activism and for the phenomenal growth of the youth climate movement that we have seen since 2018.

My experiences in the youth climate movement have allowed me to see that one of the greatest barriers we have to urgent climate action is education. Because of the lack of climate education around the world, I founded Earth Uprising International to help young people educate one another on the climate crisis, which ultimately has the effect of empowering young people to take direct action for their futures.

The primary mission of Earth Uprising International is increased climate and civics education for youth. Climate literacy and environmental education are the first steps to mobilizing our generations. By adding climate literacy to curricula worldwide, governments can ensure young people leave school with the skills and environmental knowledge needed to be engaged citizens in their communities. A climate-educated and environmentally literate global public is more likely to take part in the green jobs revolution, make more sustainable consumer choices, and hold world leaders accountable for their climate action commitments. Youth who have been educated about the climate crisis will lead the way in adaptation, mitigation, and solution making. Youth will be the ones who will protect democracy and freedom, advocate for climate and environmental migrants, and create the political will necessary to address climate change at the scale of the crisis.

So this year, for Earth Week, I am thrilled to be organizing a global youth climate summit called “Youth Speaks: Our Message to World Leaders,” on April 20. Together, in collaboration with EARTHDAY.ORG and hundreds of youth climate activists around the world, the summit will address our main issues of concern, including climate literacy, biodiversity protection, sustainable agriculture, the creation of green jobs, civic skill training, environmental justice, environmental migration and borders, the protection of democracy and free speech, governmental policy making, and political will.

From this summit, youth climate activists from all over the world will be creating a concise list of demands that we want addressed at President Biden’s World Leaders Summit, occurring on Earth Day, April 22. We believe that youth must inform and inspire these critical conversations about climate change that will impact all of us!

For more information about our global youth climate summit, “Youth Speaks: Our Message to World Leaders,” go to www.EarthUprising.org/YouthSpeaks2021. There, you will find information about how to participate in our summit as well as be kept up to date on the latest agenda, participants, and follow along as we develop our demands and platform.

The youth will continue to make noise and necessary trouble. There is so much left to be done.

This story originally appeared in Teen Vogue and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

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A pair of trees grow out of a book that rests on scorched earth to depict climate change. vencavolrab / Getty Images

By Julia Fine

A record number of Americans are concerned about climate change, a recent study by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University's Center for Climate Change Communication found. If you're among them, you may be interested in learning more about the climate crisis and what you can do about it. Luckily, you don't have to comb through scientific papers in order to educate yourself (unless you'd like to): More and more books on climate change and climate action are published every year, ranging from grimly realistic takes on the severity of the crisis to optimistic visions of social and technological solutions. To find out which ones are worth a read, Teen Vogue reached out to 11 climate activists for their recommendations. Here are the books they said were most informative and inspiring.

By Julia Fine

A record number of Americans are concerned about climate change, a recent study by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication found. If you’re among them, you may be interested in learning more about the climate crisis and what you can do about it. Luckily, you don’t have to comb through scientific papers in order to educate yourself (unless you’d like to): More and more books on climate change and climate action are published every year, ranging from grimly realistic takes on the severity of the crisis to optimistic visions of social and technological solutions. To find out which ones are worth a read, Teen Vogue reached out to 11 climate activists for their recommendations. Here are the books they said were most informative and inspiring.


1. Down to Earth: Nature’s Role in American History by Ted Steinberg

Down to Earth is a history of North America from an environmental perspective. It’s an easy read, and very interesting. One chapter explains how we used to know where our food came from, but eventually we pushed agriculture out to the sidelines of our cities, causing many other problems. Down to Earth made me realize that this country was founded on exploitation and that everything we do has an impact.” —Natalie Blackwelder, commissioner of sustainability, Santa Barbara City College

2. Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming by Paul Hawken

Drawdown is a handbook for how to stop and then reverse climate change. It lists dozens of actions to not just avoid putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, but to draw carbon dioxide down out of the atmosphere. When you combine ‘family planning’ and ‘educating girls’ from the top 10 actions list, they draw down more CO2 from the atmosphere than anything else on the list. Feminism literally saves humanity from climate catastrophe.” —Cassian Lodge, LGBTQ+ and environmental activist, U.K.

“When I felt overwhelmed at the big challenge of stopping climate change, this book broke things down to something manageable. It’s like a playbook of climate solutions. I was fascinated to learn about marine permaculture, which is one of the proposed solutions. It’s a method of growing seaweed on floating platforms that not only removes carbon from the atmosphere, but can also restore life to the oceans and provide an economic boon to coastal communities. I’ve since learned a lot about it, and I even helped lead a fundraiser that will help build some platforms off the coast of Tasmania.” —Mark Abersold, software developer and Citizens’ Climate Lobby member; moderator for Reddit’s Climate Offensive forum

3. Frontlines: Stories of Global Environmental Justice by Nick Meynen

“Nick Meynen’s storytelling is personal, powerful, and inspiring. Every unpacked frontline is one cutting edge of an economic system and political ideology that is destroying life on earth. Revealing our ecosystems to be under a sustained attack, Meynen finds causes for hope in unconventional places. He reminds us that it is up to each and every one of us to play our role in the fight to achieve the radical changes necessary to save the planet.” —Paola Hernández Olivan, food project and policy officer, Health Care Without Harm, Brussels

4. No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg

No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference contains the speeches made by the Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg — in climate rallies across Europe, to audiences at the U.N., the World Economic Forum, and the British Parliament. Greta inspires me because she says it like it is. She doesn’t wrap the truth up in pretty paper to make it easier to take. Among millions of activists, Greta has one of the most powerful voices because she occupies the moral and ethical high ground of someone from the next generation whose life is being destroyed.” —Christine Essex, coordinator, Extinction Rebellion Newbury

Favorite quote: And we will never stop fighting, we will never stop fighting for this planet, and for ourselves, our futures, and for the futures of our children and our grandchildren.

5. The No-Nonsense Guide to Climate Change by Danny Chivers

“This is the clearest and most succinct book I have ever read about the nature of climate change, the forces that are blocking action on it, and the forces that have arisen to confront it. I teach classes on this subject, and this book works year after year to bring everyone up to speed on the problem and potential actions we can take. It’s funny, readable, engaging, and powerful.” —John Foran, professor of sociology and environmental studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara

Favorite passage: This is going to be the most amazing, inspiring, and unifying social movement that the world has ever seen. It’s going to be difficult, and frustrating at times, but it’s also going to massively enrich the lives of everyone who’s a part of it. This includes you.… [You can] be part of the most exciting and important social uprising of our lifetimes.

6. The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

“By the author of The Windup Girl, The Water Knife is a fictional portrayal of the effects of climate change on the western United States. It includes scenes of trying to get by in Phoenix when it’s basically a desert. It’s a powerful, well-written story that emphasizes the impacts of climate-induced social collapse on women.” —D. Kempton, Climate Reality Canada, Drawdown Newmarket-Aurora

7. As Long as Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice, From Colonization to Standing Rock by Dina Gilio-Whitaker

“This book covers the 500-year history of Native American resistance to colonialism and ecocide. It contextualized my environmental work as part of a struggle that has been taking place in the Americas since European contact, and it made me feel more connected to the larger Native American environmental movement as a cohesive whole both over time and across cultures and places. For Native people, this book is a reminder of how connected and similar our environmental justice struggles have been. This is especially important because the climate crisis requires cooperation across cultures and locations in an unprecedented way.” —Shaylon Stolk, Indigenous (Scottish/Wayúu) renewable energy scientist and organizer with Extinction Rebellion justice; based in occupied Duwamish land (Seattl

8. The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells

“This book offers specific, science-based predictions about the effects of unchecked global warming. It scared me silly, and it inspired me to reflect and act.” —Gregg Long, high school English teacher, Illinois

Favorite quote: It is worse, much worse, than you think.

9. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate by Naomi Klein

This Changes Everything makes the case that the climate crisis is a consequence of capitalism, but it is a crisis that offers an opportunity to organize a new political system. It convinced me that we won’t invent or grow our way out of this problem, but that it can be solved by political organizing. It’s sobering and empowering, which is a difficult tightrope to walk.” —Evan, Climate Justice committee coordinator, Democratic Socialists of America, Los Angeles chapter

Favorite passage: And that is what is behind the abrupt rise in climate change denial among hard-core conservatives: They have come to understand that as soon as they admit that climate change is real, they will lose the central ideological battle of our time — whether we need to plan and manage our societies to reflect our goals and values, or whether that task can be left to the magic of the market.

10. This Is Not a Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook by Extinction Rebellion

This Is Not a Drill is a handbook on nonviolent civil disobedience for the challenges of the 21st century. Only a mass social movement will save us. This book provides the tools for that.” —George, youth climate activist, U.K.

Favorite passage: We may or may not escape a breakdown. But we can escape the toxicity of the mindset that has brought us here. And in doing so we can recover a humanity that is capable of real resilience.

This story originally appeared in Teen Vogue and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

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