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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

To climate leaders both on UF’s campus and across the state, climate change is what’s scaring them most this Halloween.

The online UF climate conference convened on Sunday as students became part of the process to make a difference both locally and globally. 

To introduce students and other attendees to the worldwide United Nation Conferences of Parties, about 50 attendees tuned in Sunday to the Campus Climate Corps Conference hosted by UF master’s student and U.N. Climate Conference delegate Rock Aboujaoude, Jr. The event hosted statewide leaders like Rep. Anna Eskamani and Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried.

Aboujaoude set the tone for the event with a stark reminder.

“We’re inheriting a planet that is facing destruction,” Aboujaoude said. “It is going to take all of us working together in order to make this journey successful.”

Nikki Fried, the Florida Commissioner of Agriculture who is running for governor in 2022, discussed her Florida Energy and Climate Plan, which will be considered in the 2022 legislative session.

“The University of Florida is my second home,” Fried said. “It means so much to me to know that there is such a dedicated group of young leaders here in Florida who are working to proactively take steps to protect our planet.”

The bill takes steps to mitigate the impacts of climate change in the state, she said, establishing goals for greenhouse gas reduction: 50% by 2030, 90% by 2050 and 100% by 2055. 

“These may seem like ambitious goals,” Fried said. “But the cost of not taking action is much higher.”

The bill includes new methods for floating solar panels, which can be installed in retention pond systems and generate jobs in energy efficiency.

“Keep up the fight,” Fried said. “Keep working to break down the barriers to change. And never give up. Our planet and our future are worth it.”

Another speaker was Donald Zepeda, an activist with Extinction Rebellion, which he said is a global environmental group using nonviolent action to inspire climate policy. He encouraged students to speak out through civil disobedience.

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“We don’t need to be everyone’s friends, we just need to get the ball moving,” Zepeda said. “We don’t have the time to elect better politicians. All politicians, however, respond to sustained public pressure.”

UF political science professor and sustainability studies program director Leslie Paul Thiele discussed the political and social dimensions of the climate crisis.

People often think of politics as a dirty word, Thiele said. But to stand by and do nothing is no longer an option. People who are not part of the political elite have to be active participants in holding politicians accountable, he said. 

“It’s illegitimate to be a bystander,” Thiele said. “Saving civilization is not going to be a spectator sport.”

It is in the power of the people, he said, to vote politicians out of office who aren’t committed to climate solutions. 

“It’s changing politicians, not lightbulbs, and changing laws, not lightbulbs, that is the more important, depressing task that we face,” Thiele said. 

Rep. Anna Eskamani, who represents the Orlando area in the Florida House, discussed her Florida legislation to require 100% renewable electric power generation by 2040. The bill is still making its way through subcommittees.

One of the biggest myths the fossil fuel companies use against clean energy, she said, is that it won’t be affordable and will lose jobs. She believes that more money will be spent if climate change isn’t dealt with. 

“I would much rather spend money on a proactive effort to sustain this planet and its people and all the creatures that call the world home,” she said.

On the contrary, money would be spent navigating the impact of major storms, rising sea levels and hotter weather for outdoor workers, she said.

Eskamani said she’s glad to be among the students amplifying climate change and action. Beyond this, people must get involved in policy at a state level.

Although Florida is the Sunshine State, the bulk of energy production still comes from fossil fuels, Eskamani said.

Eskamani pointed to not only the companies like ExxonMobil as roles in the issue, but politicians like Sen. Joe Manchin who built their wealth on fossil fuels and accepting company money. Disinformation from politicians often furthers the problem, she said.

Eskamani said she always knew lawmakers bent over backwards for corporate donors, but seeing it for herself as a representative is shameful.

The bill would ban Florida from approving any more construction of fossil fuel based infrastructure, including a ban on fracking, she said. 

Companies often leverage longlasting infrastructure investments to avoid moving off fossil fuels, such as beginning the construction of a natural gas based power plant, Eskamani said. 

The solution to climate change, she said, lies in looking for renewable solutions and building the infrastructure to support them.

Environmental scientist and UF lecturer Stephen Mulkey said while he’s inspired by messages of hope brought forth by students and state representatives at the conference, there’s still a lot of work to be done.

Climate change progress is like a false summit, Mulkey said. After you climb to the top of one mountain, you discover there’s another behind it.

“Why are we willing to gamble the lives of millions of people, the beautiful life around us and the futures of our children?” Mulkey said.

Unless politicians and everyday people commit to immediate, rapid and large-scale reduction of all greenhouse gases, the future is still bleak.

“Our current emissions trajectory is simply catastrophic and unprecedented,” he said. “We need to be in the streets demanding change.”

Campus Climate Corps is offering virtual daily briefs, including discussions summarizing what happens at the worldwide climate conference every day at 7 p.m., now from Nov. 1 to Nov. 12. People can register for the briefs on the Campus Climate Corps website.

Contact Alexandra at Follow her on Twitter @harris_alex_m.

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Alexandra Harris

Alexandra is a senior journalism major reporting on Science/Environment for The Alligator. Her work has appeared in The Gainesville Sun, and she filed public records requests for the Why Don't We Know investigative podcast. She has a passion for the environment.

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