Tampa, FL – Last night the New Leaders Council and local community leaders hosted a panel discussion with young professionals and climate experts on the central role of climate change in the 2016 election. Environmental experts, climate advocates, and ecologic entrepreneurs gathered at the Blind Tiger Café in downtown Ybor for an evening of formal and informal debate on climate action, social justice and politics.
Florida has been painfully reminded of its position on the front lines of climate change by the recent torrential rains, regular flooding of major cities tied to sea level rise, and tropical diseases that are troubling our state. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman recently pointed to climate change as part of the cause of the recent sewage dump that has alarmed residents.
A poll released by ABC News/The Washington Post showed that over 75% of 18-29 year olds believe that climate change is a serious problem facing America. For many millennials, the focus is climate justice, which frames climate change as an ethical and political issue, not just purely environmental.
“Every human being needs a healthy climate in order to survive”, said Nicole Hernandez Hammer, Southeast Advocacy Coordinator for the Union of Concerned Scientists, who joined last night’s panel telephonically. Nicole was the special guest of First Lady Michelle Obama at the 2015 State of the Union for her extraordinary work in climate justice.
“The least privileged among us will be the first to feel the impacts of climate change, and will likely be impacted the most,” says Hammer. “I think that more than any other generation, millennials understand the intersection of the environment, human rights and social justice, and that is why they will be the ones to find solutions.”
David Hastings, Professor of Marine Science and Chemistry at Eckerd College, touched on the need for political leadership on this issue. “The contrast between our two presidential candidates on climate change is alarming. On the one hand, we have Donald Trump who believes climate change is a ‘Chinese hoax,’ and on the other we have Hillary Clinton, who calls it ‘an urgent threat and defining challenge of our time’ and has a thorough plan to deal with this very real threat,” Hastings continued.
“Marco Rubio – like Donald Trump – is dangerous on climate issues,” said Susan Glickman of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy Action Fund, “Rubio’s insistence that the regular flooding in Miami is based solely on the city’s low-lying land and not the very real presence of climate change is frustrating and scary. Florida is at ground-zero for threats from climate change, and our Senator is sitting on his hands. We need meaningful action now so that we can preserve our beautiful state for future generations.”
Tony Selvaggio, Founder and CEO of eSmart Recycling, brought a local business perspective to the panel. “I believe we can solve a lot of social issues, like climate change, through a business model,” said Selvaggio. “There are plenty of opportunities in the recycling industry and in the waste space to lower the environmental footprint of society while making money in the process. There has to be a financial gain in the equation, enough freedom, yet enough collaboration with government entities for the entrepreneur to figure out a solution that is sustainable and scalable.”
One thing all panelists agreed on is that the stakes are historically high on climate change, and this issue will play a bigger role than ever in this November election.