On CCL tour, Floridians are ready to talk about climate change

Ft. Lauderdale CCL group Florida energy freedom tour

CCL’s emerging Ft. Lauderdale group hosted a presentation as part of this month’s Florida Energy Freedom Tour.

By Mary Gable

In the wake of a natural disaster or other tragedy, a common refrain is that it’s “not the time” to talk about a catastrophe’s potential causes. As he prepared for the first Florida Energy Freedom Tour, planned for less than two weeks after the state was devastated by Hurricane Irma, CCL Southeast Director Don Addu admits that this thought crossed his mind.

Addu knew that the people he’d be addressing would have had only recently had power restored to their homes. Many would be coping with severe property damage. Would they be ready to talk about climate change?

The answer, he soon learned, was a resounding yes. During the tour, which took place October 1 through 10, Addu encountered “no climate denial anywhere,” he said. During an event in Doral, Addu asked audience members what had prompted them to attend. “People looked at me like I was crazy. Their homes had flooded. Roads were still inundated at high tide. And they understood that climate change was likely to blame.”

A similar pattern emerged throughout the tour, with events held across eastern Florida in Jacksonville, St. Augustine, Titusville, West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. Addu met with a district staffer for Senator Marco Rubio in Jacksonville and was impressed by the district office’s efforts to help constituents affected by the hurricane. He also addressed a group of nearly 60 students at Flagler College who gathered to watch “Facing the Surge” and learn about CCL’s climate change solution.

Flagler College Citizens Climate Lobby Florida tour

Audience for “Facing the Surge” at Flagler College

Now, Floridians are ready to act. A group in Fort Lauderdale plans to form a CCL chapter by the end of the year, and chapters may form in St. Augustine and Jacksonville in early 2018. CCL has identified leaders in each of these cities and will be providing them with the resources they need in the coming months.

Addu’s advice for conducting an outreach tour in a disaster area? “Be flexible,” he said. He’d been planning the tour for months, and when Irma struck, he knew there would be challenges. But the situation also presented opportunities: two events instead of one were held near St. Augustine.

“Sadly, we may encounter more areas like these,” says Addu. As droughts, flooding, wildfires and other disasters become more frequent and severe, CCL volunteers will meet more people living with the consequences of climate change. They’ll need flexibility and compassion more than ever.

“The most important takeaway from the Florida Energy Freedom Tour is that people there understand that climate change is real, it’s happening now, and it needs a solution fast,” Addu said. “So many people have now watched rising tides destroy their homes, and they’ve had enough of empty rhetoric.”

For CCL, that means we should keep communicating, even—and especially—when it’s hard. There’s never been a better time for a conversation about climate change. So let’s keep talking.

Special thanks to CCL Florida Coordinator Abhaya Thiele, Co-Coordinator Tony Buscemi, Greg Hamra, Robert Figueroa, Ellen Mee and Louis Merlin for their on-the-ground support throughout the tour.

Mary Gable is a writer and editor who focuses on sustainability and innovation. She's based in Seattle, but takes her work on the road whenever she can.