Eco groups turn students into climate change activists

Rising sea levels, dangers to ocean reefs, plastic pollution, oil drilling and coastal erosion are the most pressing issues for South Floridians. National Aeronautics and Space Administration studies project that by 2100 these threats will become even more severe.

According to a media company, Axios Polls, at least 62 percent of millennials believe climate change is human-induced. Almost 70 percent of millennials said climate change will seriously affect them in their lifetimes.

Local environmental organizations and campaigns have come together to bring more awareness to the younger generations.

“Visiting schools and educating young kids impacts them into believing the environment’s future largely depends on what they do about climate change,” said Ryan Cruse, a manager of Surfrider Foundation.

The Surfrider Foundation is a millennial-driven organization and has aimed to reduce plastic pollution on the shorelines around the world, particularly South Florida.

“Plastic Pollution is a large problem in our local oceans and bays. Marine life can eat plastic and die an agonizing death not to mention the waters become polluted, which also becomes toxic to marine life,” said Denise Duchesne, an activist who works for the Surfrider Foundation.

Duchesne became involved in the Surfrider Miami chapter when she was in sixth grade. Now 25, Duchesne is leading the Strawless Beaches project at Surfrider.

Duchesne is not the only young activist to join the Surfrider Foundation.

“I was frustrated and enraged with the amount of plastic pollution on my local beaches and decided that I wanted to do something about it. I went to a Surfrider Chapter meeting and there I met so many young people that were as passionate as I was about protecting our local waters,” said Surfrider activist Roxie Castaneda.

Castaneda said she has helped with campaigns such as offshore oil drilling, stopping the William Transco Pipeline, and beach clean-ups around the world.

In 2018, there have been 360 beach cleanups removing over 93,910 pounds of trash, and an increase of 20,449 volunteers.

Surfrider provides options to petition and contact officials regarding new obstacles that come up throughout the year. Members of the foundation are always ready for battle as they create new campaigns to adapt to the Trump Administration.

“The [Trump] administration is open to expanding offshore oil and gas drilling all along America’s coastal waters including Florida so we decided to start a campaign this past January called Ban Oil and Gas Exploration in Florida’s State Waters,” said Holly Parker, a member of Surfrider Miami.

Surfrider has recently celebrated 34 years and 500 victories by government decision in favor of protecting the coastal and ocean environment. So far in 2018, there have been 47 victories.

The government ruled in favor of Surfrider in litigation campaigns including Florida REACH 8, a construction project done along Florida beaches. Activist Castaneda testified before the City of Miami Council in connection with stopping damaging plastic bags and styrofoam legislation and participated in Ocean Recreation Hill Day, which brought together over 100 Surfrider activists and environmental partners in Washington, D.C.

“I had the opportunity to speak to members of Congress about prominent issues affecting our coastlines and it is at gatherings like these that young people can make the most impact,” said Castaneda.

Members of Surfrider Miami also visit schools to give presentations regarding their mission and the concerns of climate change. After the presentation, they go outside to the school grounds to pick up trash.

“It’s amazing how many plastic bottles and cigarette butts that are found,” said Parker.

Volunteer cleanups and campaigns are not the only way South Florida organizations have influenced the younger generations to find a solution to climate change.

“It’s all experimental, exploratory, and we are trying to find new ways for people to become engaged on this issue,” said Linda Cheung, Co-founder of the non-profit organization, Before It’s Too Late. By integrating behavioral science, social science, systems change and studying how past social movements have merged with the power of art and culture, the initiative has created a social theory of change.

“I think of it as a laboratory in order to explore the different ways that we can communicate this issue to the youth and spread that education,” said Cheung about the non-profit. The organization works with high school students using new technologies to create projects that raise awareness.

In one project, called Miami 2050, students use virtual reality to envision what Miami can look like in 2050 if a change isn’t made.

Before It’s Too Late is currently teaming up with Massachusetts Institute of Technology to develop a world energy game for South Florida schools. In addition to working with MIT, Before It’s Too Late have partnered with Climate Interactive to create a mock world energy conference. High School students role-play world energy and government leaders with a key objective: reducing global temperature by two degrees Celsius by 2100.

The purpose is to teach students to think about different solutions such as renewable energy. By creating this awareness in younger generations they are creating the case for a better world.

“This has become a pattern that exists when our communities get disengaged from societal duties. Our goal is to enliven our young generations to be attentive in protecting our coastlines and the only way to do that is to show up demand accountability and bring attention to climate change issues their future depends on,” said Michelle Sheehan, Surfrider activist of 10 years.