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Florida Students Sue State Lawmakers Over Climate Change Inaction

Delaney Reynolds, a student at the University of Miami, led a discussion about climate change during the TEDx Talks in Miami when she was 17 years old.

Several Florida students are continuing a legal fight over climate change inaction. They're suing the governor and other state lawmakers for not doing enough about climate change. They claim their future is in jeopardy.

This comes after a federal appeals court recently dismissed a case launched by nearly two dozen kids and young adults.


WLRN’s Luis Hernandez spoke with Delaney Reynolds, a junior at the University of Miami and the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit.

LUIS HERNANDEZ: What's the lawsuit about? 

DELANEY REYNOLDS: The lawsuit has been filed because we basically believe that the Florida government, the governor, Commissioner of Agriculture and the Cabinet are not upholding their duties that are outlined in the Florida Constitution and the Public Trust Doctrine. Within these documents, it says that the Florida government has the legal obligation to protect our environment and our public trust resources. That's land, that's water, and we believe that it also includes the atmosphere.

And by pumping massive amounts of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere and causing the climate change crisis, they're not doing their legal duty. That's why we're suing. We want them to create laws, plans and remedies that will start to cut back on carbon emissions. 

With a lawsuit, you're asking for something. There's no money in this. You're asking lawmakers to produce laws to deal with the problem. 

We don't want any money. None of the lawyers are getting paid. It's all pro bono. All we want is action on climate change and reducing fossil fuels.

How did you become part of this? It's you and a group of young people between the ages of 21 and 12. 

A few years ago, I actually learned about the federal lawsuit, and I thought that that would be something really interesting to bring to Florida. At the time, when I read that, Rick Scott was our governor and absolutely nothing was being done to address climate change. Government officials couldn't even talk about it. And so as a last resort, when you can't do anything else, you can't rely on the state, we had to take it to the courts. 

Under the Scott administration, it's true. He had never mentioned climate change. He did start saying it, though, when he was running for Senate. But [Gov. Ron] DeSantis, it's very different. A [Chief] Science officer, a [Chief] Resilience officer, more money for Everglades restoration. It seems like he's going in a different direction. 

Yes, absolutely. It's definitely better. And they're great first steps. But the keyword is first step. The only way that we're ever going to address and solve the climate change crisis is by completely eliminating the use of fossil fuels. We have to transition from an economy based on fossil fuels to one based on sustainable energy. And while all of these mitigation and resiliency efforts are important and necessary for South Florida and Florida as a whole, our long-term survival, we need to eliminate the use of fossil fuels. 

Greta Thunberg, the young woman who made international news when she when she spoke before the U.N. not too long ago, is in Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum. What role do you believe that she's played in galvanizing individuals to take action on this issue?

She's inspired hundreds of thousands of youth all over the world to stand up and to speak out. The youth generation is finally starting to realize that we really do have a voice, even if we can't yet vote and make changes with our votes in politics. We can use our voice. We can talk to politicians. We can work with them regardless of that fact.

And I think that youth all over the world globally are being motivated to do so because we have to implement solutions. So it's getting to the point where it's such a problem that we've decided that we have to take matters into our own hands. We have to speak up. We have to sue our governments. We have to work with them to implement these solutions that we're asking for. Otherwise, there won't be a South Florida or other places just like it all over the planet in our future. 

The transcript of this interview has been edited lightly for brevity and clarity.

Alexander Gonzalez produces the afternoon newscasts airing during All Things Considered. He enjoys helping tell the South Florida story through audio and digital platforms. Alex is interested in a little of everything from business to culture to politics.
Luis Hernandez is an award-winning journalist and host whose career spans three decades in cities across the U.S. He’s the host of WLRN’s newest daily talk show, Sundial (Mon-Thu), and the news anchor every afternoon during All Things Considered.