Episode 5: The young woman taking the fight to the capital

The front lines in the battle against the climate crisis are taking on many forms. Millions worldwide have marched, led protests, and even used (and I don’t condone this) violence to try and get their message across.

Source: Wikipedia

A large amount of the energy behind this movement is from the youngest generation, Generation Z. One name that has become synonymous with advocacy in this arena is Greta Thunberg

But she’s not the only one. And this battle will require many, many more people like her. So I introduce you to Delaney Reynolds. She’s South Florida-born. Her first work in this field was a children’s book she wrote as a child. There are three now. Reynolds also founded the Sink or Swim Project, a non-profit working to spread the word.

Reynolds recently graduated from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School for Marine and Atmospheric Science, where she majored in marine science and coastal geology with a minor in climate policy. She’s currently attending graduate school in a dual program, working to earn a law degree, a Juris Doctorate, and Ph.D. 

We spoke with her about a law she helped write and her thoughts on the future of Miami, but we started by discussing a lawsuit she and a group of young people have filed against the state of Florida.

Let’s talk about the lawsuit. You were part of a group of young people suing the state of Florida, the governor, and several people in Tallahassee that run the state because you felt they weren’t doing enough to protect the environment. Clarify for us what the lawsuit is and where it is right now. 

Delaney Reynolds How the lawsuit came to be, seven of my friends and I, from around the state of Florida, filed this lawsuit back on April 2019. We are suing the state of Florida, the government of Florida, the governor, the commissioner of agriculture, and essentially the governor’s entire cabinet for not upholding legal duties outlined in the Florida Constitution and the public trust doctrine. Both say that our government has the legal duty to protect our public trust resources, our land, our waters, and the atmosphere through pollution. So, of course, by burning fossil fuels and pumping massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, they’re not doing their job. So that’s the basis of what we’re doing on it. And we are asking them to create plans and laws that they will enact to hopefully cut back our carbon emissions. We have been fighting very hard over the last three years. We had our first hearing in the summer of 2020, and the judge acknowledged the state’s motion to dismiss. So he ended up dismissing our case because he thought this wasn’t something that he, as a judge, could address. He didn’t think that he had the power to do so.

Interestingly, Article 3 of our United States Constitution explicitly says that the judiciary has the power to address maritime. And this is included in that. So since then, we filed for an appeal, and just recently, last month, they dismissed our appeal motion. Now there are many more steps that we can take. Our lawsuit is far from over. We’re still very optimistic about it. Our lawyers are hard at work right now, weighing all the different options and paths we can take. I just wrote an entirely new statement for them this past weekend. So we’re going in a positive direction, in my opinion. But, you know, when I first got involved in pursuing a judicial solution, I did this because the political system exploded, and it’s biased. It’s closely tied to developers and utilities, antiquated ways of doing business. So I felt like I had no choice but to pursue through our legal system because our politicians, executive, and legislative branches were failing us regarding climate change.

Lawsuit by kids against the state of Florida over climate change.

PE2072 When you think about the last three years of this lawsuit and everything that you’ve been through, you’ve learned much more about that political system. And you see how the machine grinds forward, how it works. Is there anything you would have done differently? 

Delaney Reynolds, I don’t think I would have approached it differently. I think the case was written exactly how it should have been. I think that the way we approach it is precisely what we should have. I think, personally, that there were a lot of politics behind the scenes, to be honest. We have been reassigned a judge three different times. One of them was right before the midterm election, which was interesting, to say the least. But, when I first got involved with the case, someone very early on told me that I should expect to spend the rest of my life working through the courts to figure this out. So while I would love to see this solved quickly, I know it will take a long time. But I know that if we don’t endeavor to make those changes, we will lose places like Miami, Miami Beach, and the Florida Keys. And I, for one, don’t want to see that happen. So we have to forge forward no matter how sticky politics gets. We have to keep fighting. We don’t really have a choice. If we don’t, our whole region is conceivably going to sink. 

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PE2072 Speaking of working with politicians, you had the opportunity some years back to work with a politician on something unique. You worked with former South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard, and you both worked on a law. Right? 

Delaney Reynolds, I learned about some laws in California. There are three different cities in California, including San Francisco, that have solar laws. And they all require that buildings or homes install solar panels. And I thought being here in the Sunshine State of Florida, as we’re known, would be the perfect place to implement a similar law. So I started by writing a letter to about a dozen mayors asking if they would be interested in creating and implementing something similar. And Mayor Stoddard was the first to respond and was super enthusiastic about the idea. He loved it. He was all in. But he had one condition, and that was that I had to help him write the law. So even though I had no experience in anything involving the law other than talking to politicians, occasionally, I do write. And so he and I met countless times and spent hours on end taking the laws from California, molding them, and changing them to fit the codes in South Miami. And about a year later, we had our first draft, and it was passed after a few revisions and public hearings. So in 2017, it made the city of South Miami the first city in the state of Florida and Florida the second state in the United States to have a solar power law. 

PE2072 And here we are now, a few years later, and the city commission is looking at creating an option to let developers opt out of it. As you watch that happen, this is politics at work. You work so hard to do something, and then the next administration can come in and try to sideswipe it. What do you think about what’s going on right now? 

Delaney Reynolds, I think that there’s always room for improvement with everything right now. The commission initially tried to do that. They were told that there were some concerns from the public complaints that people didn’t want solar. There wasn’t a way out of the program. Now, what’s interesting is that they don’t know how many complaints there are or who they are from. So to me, it’s based on nothing; there’s no fact to go off of. But they’re pursuing it, which is fine. So they talked about finding an opt-out for installing solar on people’s roofs. And they talked about many different ways they could do that. Mayor Stoddard actually worked with the city clerk to come up with a way that is both beneficial for people who want to opt-out of solar, which I don’t know why they would want to, and that there be a program where they can pay almost the equivalent of putting solar on their roof. And that money is going into a trust fund for the city. And they will use that money to put solar on government facilities. So whether it’s like a parking lot, roofs, or the city of South Miami official buildings, that’s what that trust is going towards. And once they’ve completed that, if the trust is large enough, they would ultimately use that to help fund homeowners getting solar on their roofs. So to me, that’s fine. That’s beneficial. I spoke in front of the commission, and I told them to feel free to do anything that they want to improve the law, to make it easier for citizens in South Miami to get solar on their homes, and make it more beneficial for them. Just don’t dismantle it. It’s such a landmark law. It’s the first of its kind in South Florida. The whole world is watching what they’re about to do with it. So I really hope they don’t dismantle it for their own sake because people worldwide have reached out to me and spoken to me about it. I’ve met with people over it. And it really does get a lot of media attention. So not only is it good for our environment, but it’s a good spotlight on the little city of Miami. So I hope that they make the right decision. 

Founder of Sink or Swim

PE2072, I’ll put you on the spot for a second here. Why aren’t more people interested in setting up solar? 

Delaney Reynolds, I think about this a lot. I grew up in a solar-powered home, so I grew up learning about the benefits of our own pocketbook and the environment. I think people are afraid of the initial cost of installing solar power. I think that is a real kicker for many people because it is expensive, but you have to look at the other incentives around it. Once it’s installed, the system pays for itself within 20 years. You’re going to get whatever money you spent installing the system back because if you’re connected to both solar power and the grid, whatever extra money or whatever extra energy you generate from solar, you can sell back to Florida Power and Light. So it’s free money from the sun. It’s obviously better for the environment. Scientists have said that if we were to crack down and get serious about solar power, half of Florida’s energy needs could come from the sun by two 2045. That’s right around the corner. That’s within my life, within a lot of your listener’s lifetime. So if we were to just get serious about that, we could make a huge difference here in South Florida in the price of solar. It may be daunting at first, but it’s getting cheaper daily. I think it actually, at this point, is cheaper than your typical electrical grid. Our power bill in my solar-powered house is seven to fifteen dollars depending on the month. We went through Hurricane Irma. We shut the power off because we feared the batteries getting circuited. After the storm and our roof were still intact. We believe the only reason our roof stayed on our house was that the solar panels were bolted into it and kept there. We flipped the power switch back on. It immediately had power, whereas other people all over the state did not. They were out of power for weeks. So we were fortunate in that way. So it’s a benefit here in Florida. I struggle to understand why people aren’t more in favor of it. 

PE2072 Do you think we are preparing enough to prepare for what’s coming in the decades ahead? 

Delaney Reynolds, The short answer to your question is not yet; I don’t think we’re doing enough yet set in stone. We’ll see two to three feet of sea level rise from the damage we’ve already done. I don’t think we’re prepared for it like we are. We’re only seeing inches of flooding, impacting people’s homes, businesses, and ways of life. People can’t drive around when it happens. Miami Beach has been spending half a billion dollars because people had trouble spending money at businesses, and our tourism economy suffered from it. But Miami Beach is the only one that’s been implementing a large project. So, no, I don’t think we’re doing enough. I think that we really need to ramp up adaptation and mitigation efforts. Otherwise, a lot of these places could disappear. The keys are super low-lying, most of them sometimes below sea level. And that’s a huge problem. They’re going to disappear, but they’re not doing too much about it. They’ve talked about eminent domain, which takes people’s houses away when they can no longer live in them because of flooding. But other than that, they haven’t implemented anything regarding sea level rise. 

PE2072 I’ve read about how your generation is dealing with a lot of anxiety and stress about the future. I want to understand what that is. First of all, I mean, tell me, is that true? What do you think about the future? What’s going through your mind? 

Delaney Reynolds Yeah, of course. Obviously, it’s different for everyone, but it’s scary to think about the future. We might not have a home here in South Florida, but it won’t exist anymore, and our geography is going to change so drastically because of things we’ve been doing as a species. So it’s scary to think about how we’ve caused so much of this turmoil. For me, the scariest thing is thinking about how significant climate change is and how much it will impact society in many ways. It’s not just sea level rise, and it’s not just here in Florida. It’s heat waves, it’s a disease, it’s drought.

There’s not a single aspect of society that climate change isn’t going to touch. So that, to me, is the scariest thing because I often think about how I can help more. I work on sea level rise. But there are so many other issues. I sometimes feel like I’m not doing enough to address those issues, or maybe I’m not even doing enough to address sea level rise because we’re not seeing that much change regarding politicians here in South Florida. And I just don’t know what else I can be doing. And I’m trying to save the future. And so many other kids are, and we’re just not seeing enough. And it’s that kind of mindset that freaks me out. My brain keeps going and firing, and what can I do and what can I do? But then I just kind of have to calm myself down, as you’re doing. You’re trying your hardest to keep working at it. You’ve seen changes being made because of the work that you’ve been doing. So don’t stop; you’ll continue to see changes. When it comes to the future, I like to think a lot about the current generations, the millennials, and GenZ, because what we’ve seen over the past couple of years with climate strikes and getting involved virtually is that millions and millions of kids all over the world are super passionate about climate change. They flooded the streets to demand that their politicians and political leaders implement different climate change solutions. And so that gives me so much hope for the future. I think that once we can be in charge, we can replace the politicians who are deniers. Then we’re really going to start seeing the changes that we need may be implemented. And I think that will be like a turning point for our society. And fingers crossed, we will start to see our emissions cut down, and maybe we won’t have sea level rise one day. 

PE2072 Imagine that you are back in Miami. It’s 2072. Tell me, what do you see? How much has the city changed? 

Delaney Reynolds My hope is that there are renewable solar panels everywhere in every building and house. There’s no fracking and no oil drilling in the Gulf. Maybe we’re on stilts, our houses. Maybe we have to live in some way with the water. Maybe there are floodgates and dams and different ways we’ve had to adapt. But we’re still here in Miami, and we’re still fighting. That is my hope. That’s how I would like to see 2072. 

Research Used For This Episode

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