Water is life. And in many ways, it is what defines Florida. As a first generation American whose family came from Iraq, a nation with critical environment-related threats to human health, I am able to see the way clean, accessible water is a pressing issue not only in the state I call home, but on a national and global scale.
Located between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, Florida’s environment and geographical location is the driving force in our economy through tourism, agriculture, and fishing. Yet, from the ocean to the land, much of our environment is at risk while politicians remain stagnant, often turning a blind eye to the environmental effects that communities, particularly low income people of color, face.
That’s why in November, we must vote for candidates and policies that prioritize the ecological future of our state.
Governor of Florida Rick Scott recently declared a state of emergency in several cities, spreading from Tampa to the Everglades. This was caused by the red tide in southwest Florida, a bloom of toxic algae that has spread along the Gulf, leaving it difficult for people to breathe and causing a 50% spike in hospital visits due to respiratory problems. In addition, much of Florida’s marine life has been killed from the toxic algae, including 300 sea turtles, 554 manatees and a 26 foot whale shark just this year.
South Florida routinely struggles with flooding due from high tides at sea level. Much of the ground under this area is limestone, which means water will eventually rise above it. Because of this, these cities must have a change in infrastructure to accommodate for the frequent floods. Low-income communities of color in the Miami area who live in high above sea level places like Little Haiti and Liberty City are already being affected with rising market value prices while facing developers who are targeting their neighborhoods, a trend called climate gentrification. The most vulnerable communities will continue to bear the burden of climate change first.
As a state, we very much depend on tourism as an economic drive to our economy. In 2017, Florida set a record high number of 116.5 million visitors. Yet, when there are no beaches to play on, and the air is toxic to breathe, there will be no environment to enjoy, not for visitors and especially not for the people who call this state home.
This is why voters play a key role in Florida’s future.
Phillip Brown is a young change maker who is dedicated to creating a wave of impacts tackling environmental issues in Florida with the Sunrise Movement.
“I’m fighting to tackle the corrupting influence of the fossil fuel industry on America’s politics because the survival of black, brown, queer communities worldwide depends on the US, as the world’s largest polluter and contributor to climate change, taking action on the crises now in effort to create a sustainable, just, and equitable society,” stated Brown.
Brown is right. As an Iraqi-American, I have personally seen the environmental effects of the United States. Iraq, known as the cradle of civilization, was falsely invaded by the U.S. largely for the interests of oil and natural resources. Similarly, Native Americans struggle at Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota to protect their natural resources.
These violent political decisions to profit oil companies have lasting consequences well past their executive order date. It is difficult to say how many Iraqis died during the invasion, but it is estimated to be around half a million. In protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, law enforcement used water cannons, teargas and other lethal weapons against Native-Americans and allies for protecting their land.
The fight for clean water is not different from what has happened in Iraq and North Dakota. The effort for access to clean water has been going on for decades; it can be seen as early as the The Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida, the two tribes remaining that survived the federal government’s genocide against Native peoples in Florida.
Andrew Gillum, the Democratic nominee for Governor and current Mayor of Tallahassee, won on a progressive platform that included pledging to not take money from big oil, gas, and coal industry and instead prioritize our states health, communities, and transition to clean energy.
“We deserve a governor who actually believes in science,” Gillum stated in his nomination speech. “There’s not a profit margin in the state of Florida that oughta’ be able to rob us of those elements of clean water, clean air, and oceans.”
The Republican nominee for Governor, Ron DeSantis, has pledged to end discharge from entering our water in places like Lake Okeechobee, yet, let’s be clear, this discharge is actually done by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to prevent the Herbert Hoover Dike from being overwhelmed.
The fact: DeSantis has been endorsed by President Donald Trump who has vowed to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency; the agency has shrunken 8% since Trump took office.
Young voters like Brown and I are critically watching as politicians take our future into their hands. Seminole State College student Hayley Allison Furman joins our call. She has pledged to vote for candidates who focus on the community and our environment.
“Florida’s natural environment and the wildlife that inhabit it cannot speak up for itself; it’s important to understand whose best interest the candidate you plan to vote for has in mind and who the candidate will represent once they take office,” stated Furman.
This November, we have the ability to unite the vote for candidates like Andrew Gillum for governor, who understand the urgency of protecting our environment. We must elect politicians at all levels of government that support a clean and renewable future for everyone who lives in Florida, regardless of race, ethnicity and income level.
“It’s our responsibility to make sure our friends and family are showing up to vote this November and making informed decisions,” concluded Furman.