LIVE FROM MADRID: WE ARE STILL IN
Updated: Dec 16, 2019
We are not looking to the right or the left; we are looking forward. Will Charouhis, Founder of Forces of Nature
Today was day 1 for me at my first COP ever. It was overwhelming, to say the least. But equally, it was inspiring.
I was tasked with speaking at America’s Pledge: We Are Still In "US Climate Action Speak Out." Despite President Trump’s withdrawal of America from the Paris Climate Accord, because our nation is based on federalism, through our state and city actions, America is still in. It is now up to us, at a local and state level, to take action against climate change.
I am a reluctant speaker, but the issue requires every voice, so I lent mine. Below is an excerpt of my comments at COP25:
My name is Will Charouhis. I live in Miami, Florida. Because my city sits on the ocean, I am already living the climate impacts on ocean health. So I am glad to be here at this blue COP with the delegation of the National Wildlife Federation.
My city has 2.4 million people living at less than 4 feet about the high tide line. It is built on porous limestone. 90,000 of our septic tanks sit at 2 feet above sea level and 2/3rds leak when they are flooded. Already, during King Tides and storms, our streets flood 30 days a year. Because of those facts, my city, once known as the Magic City, is now known as ground zero for sea level rise. In Miami, I spend my free time on the ocean. I row crew and fish during the school year. I spend a lot of time in the nearby Bahamas, where I snorkel, free dive, and scuba dive. My home and my school sit right on the waters' edge of Biscayne Bay.
But the life I have now is changing. It is not just threatened; it is not just at risk - it is already happening.
In 2017 Miami was hit by one of the most intense hurricanes ever, Hurricane Irma. The water came up over the sea walls and flooded my backyard. The ocean was so powerful it washed a boat onto my school football field. The power outages closed my school for 2 weeks. But the floods didn’t stop at a few feet inland like they used to. This time our city flooded all the way out to the airport which sits in West Miami. Our entire city was underwater. The photos are unbelievable. But they are real.
Three months ago, Hurricane Dorian destroyed my Bahamas. The death count is estimated at over 300. 23 feet of storm surge left 30,000 people homeless. We headed to help and they turned us back because of the potential of disease from decaying bodies.
Due to climate change, more intense hurricanes are expected. As sea levels rise, myself and 2.4 million other Miami residents will have to move. My school, Ransom Everglades, has been in its current location for 100 years. My dad went to school on the same campus I do. If I ever have kids, mine won’t have the same opportunity, due to climate change.
So I find myself, at 13, a climate activist. I would not have chosen this. By necessity, not choice, I started a climate group in Miami called Forces of Nature, to help stop climate change.
But I am not just an activist. I am an optimist. The problem already exists - I am living it. But the solutions already exist too. Some of the solutions are even profitable. And the solutions will make our lives better.
During my free time, I now find myself writing my politicians, planning climate strikes, and planning the 2020 Youth Climate Summit. It is interesting work, and I have met some amazing people.
But I miss the Bahamas. We’ve all just got to do something.
The task at hand is urgent. Tomorrow, not next year, we need to get our houses, schools, businesses, cities, and states on board. America has got to lead in order to sustain life as we know it. We need everybody.
But tonight, I think I will take my suit off, and just be 13 for a while.
Together, we are calling for immediate action to stop climate change. One by the people. Of the people. For the planet. We've all just got to do something. Because there is no planet B. Stand with us.
Founder of Forces of Nature, Will Charouhis