November 25, 2015
3 mins read

Just about every day, as headlines in newspapers and news flashes on National Public Radio tell of political battles over climate change in America, residents of countries like Bangladesh watch water lap their homes and cover their crops.

Next week, world leaders will gather in Paris at the United Nations Climate talks to discuss how to address the causes of sea level rise and climate change.

In St. Augustine, the Environmental Youth Council hopes to bring local attention to the important talks and urge President Barack Obama and other world leaders to make reducing fossil fuel dependence their top priority. The group is doing this by hosting a march over the iconic Bridge of Lions in the downtown historic district on Nov. 29.

EYC founder and sponsor Bill Hamilton says that how the nation and the world address climate change is the most important issue for the First Coast.

“The east coast of Florida is ground zero for the impact of climate change,” Hamilton says. “Sea level rise is going to make this area uninhabitable in the future. We may not be able to completely reverse it at this point, but that’s no excuse for not addressing the causes that are creating climate change.”

Among those causes, first and foremost, according to environmental advocates and scientists, is the burning of non-renewable fossil fuels, extracted from the ground and sea. Hamilton and EYC want to see world leaders find a way to keep fossil fuels in the ground and finance a just transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.

EYC has spent the better part of its more than 20-year existence fighting against the practice of fossil fuel extraction and for the use of sustainable energy sources like solar power, Hamilton says.

The group is among the plaintiffs in a suit now on the desk of the U.S. Supreme Court, against Governor Rick Scott and his cabinet for allowing Georgia-Pacific to dump waste from its Palatka paper mill directly into the St. Johns River. EYC has held dozens of marches through the years, protesting the Keystone XL Pipeline, seismic testing in the Atlantic for offshore oil drilling, and the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on food crops that would harm bees. The members also advocate for indigenous people, the increased use of solar power in Florida and the Matanzas Riverkeeper.

Now, EYC is asking the president to act on his pro-environment rhetoric and lead the world toward shifting energy use away from fossil fuels.

“[President Barack Obama] has been talking the talk of preventing climate change. He has said to not address climate change would fail his daughters,” argues EYC President Hunter Miller. “If you have this rhetoric, you need to follow up … He needs to lead the change by example.”

St. Augustine Mayor Nancy Shaver voiced her support for the demonstration both to Folio Weekly and in a letter to Hamilton, writing that world leaders “deserve our encouragement” during next week’s negotiations.

“As we live surrounded by water here in the City of St. Augustine, we are incorporating the impacts of sea level rise in our planning, as we address our stormwater management challenges. I would encourage our world leaders to be as clear-eyed as they deliberate,” Shaver wrote.

The march, which begins on the east side of the Bridge of Lions at 1 p.m. on Sunday, and ends in the Plaza de la Constitución downtown, is part of an international network of demonstrations meant to bring attention to the UN talks, partly organized by the activist website

In light of recent terrorist attacks in Paris, announced last week that demonstrations in Paris would not be permitted for safety reasons, and reiterated the importance of the marches independently organized in cities worldwide.

Acceptance for the St. Augustine march has been growing. International ocean advocacy organization Oceana, Catholic organization Pax Christi Florida, the local Unitarian Universalists, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Matanzas Riverkeeper have all voiced support.

Craig Barzso, president of St. Augustine Livability & Sustainability Association, or SALSA, applauded EYC’s courage, and says members of his organization will also march Nov. 29, and help distribute petitions in support of a bill meant to increase public support of solar energy on behalf of Floridians for Solar Choice after the march.

“The time for debate about climate change and the attendant sea level rise is over. Now is the time to implement solutions,” Barzso says.

For Hamilton and Miller, that has never been more clear.

“We had the industrial revolution, and the technological revolution, and this is the environmental revolution. This is our big task as a society. This is our moment in history,” Miller says.

Folio is your guide to entertainment and culture around and near Jacksonville, Florida. We cover events, concerts, restaurants, theatre, sports, art, happenings, and all things about living and visiting Jax. Folio serves more than two million readers across Jacksonville and Northeast Florida, including St. Augustine, The Beaches, and Fernandina.

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