Local Candidates on the Environment

Trish Riley
News Feed
Sunday, August 21, 2022

Cinema Verde invited local candidates to share their positions on environmental concerns.

Alachua County and Gainesville, Florida Candidates on the Environment

With an unprecedented number of candidates to choose from on election day in Alachua County August 23, it’s been a surprisingly contentious election cycle in a typically friendly community. Candidates have been caught lying to the public, anti-semitic fliers have been floating around town, and one candidate even had the lack of courtesy and integrity to show up at a political event after a positive Covid diagnosis, shaking hands and pontificating without even the protection of a mask. Above all, nearly every political conversation seemed to focus on single-family zoning and whether it should be abolished to accommodate urban development in the face of low housing quantity and the anticipated influx of climate refugees. 

Some members of the community had other concerns and questions for the candidates, so Cinema Verde, with the help of the new Let’s Talk Climate group, organized a candidates’ forum to discuss environmental issues. More than 19 candidates responded to the invitation to the open-air event on the grounds of the Cypress and Grove Brewery downtown, but the crowd was forced indoors by the threat of thunderstorms and lightning. 

Trish Riley, Director of Cinema Verde, kicked off the event with thanks to sponsors and volunteers, then posed a single question to all of the candidates: Would they support development of a new community environmental education center? Ed Kellerman, Professor of marketing and debate team instructor at the University of Florida, led the discussion as moderator, breaking the group into sections by the offices at stake in the election. 

First to take the stage were candidates for Alachua County School Board. Tina Certain recalled her days as a Scout and learning to be a good steward of our natural resources. She said she applied that skill to her job as former school board chair when it came to consumption of utilities and she looks forward to continuing that progress and protection of the environment.  

“I want to see our children become climate change agents in the school, said Diyonne McGraw, another candidate for school board. “That's how they learn. I want to see them become renewable energy ambassadors.”   

Prescott Cowles was a camp counselor and program director at his school. He said he sees how the school board has failed and has a need for responsibility. “Our generation inherited this problem.” he said. “I think it is a moral obligation for the school district to empower our students with education and the tools that they need to improve on those mistakes of the past.”

Next up were contenders for Gainesville City Commission. Jo Lee Beatty opened discussion by recalling the city climate charter established in 2019. “We've got an urgent environmental and financial situation and I don't think we're moving fast enough. The City of Gainesville continues to cut down trees, increasing the pervious surface and creating heat, and then don't finish the exterior, replenishing the air. You know that that proportionately affects the most vulnerable among us.”

Christian Newman said he is a wildlife biologist, conducting research around the world on energy and wildlife. His environmental positions include decarbonization and going solar and renewable, building out infrastructure to plug in electric vehicles. “The other big issue for me is  to actually think about nature-based solutions to address some of the extreme events, whether it’s trees, whether it’s wetlands, there’s so much we can do in our communities and we’re in a great position to do it. And in terms of having an environmental education center, we absolutely do need that.”

Bryan Eastman addressed how critical our zero waste initiative is, pointing out that his wife started Zero Waste Gainesville back in 2017. He wants to start residential composting to reduce methane emissions from landfills and food diversion programs to divert unused food from grocery stores to the poor. “My focus is really on how do we make a more sustainable and brighter future for my daughter and for future generations, not just looking at what's happening tomorrow in Gainesville, but looking 20, 30, 40 years down the line.”

City Commission candidate Mike Raburn was up next. “If you live in southeast Gainesville, and you work on Archer Road, you can't take the bus to work - it takes you two hours plus to get there. I would like to see us improve our transit system so folks can get to work at home and back, which would decrease the amount of cars on the road to decrease traffic and carbon emissions as well.

“And I want to work on ending the transfer here. The way things are structured now, the city is disincentivized from becoming green in its energy because the greener it would become the less money GRU makes, the less money it has for the city."

Raburn continued on renewable energy:  “Biomass is green in places like Ohio, where you have soy and corn byproduct at the end of the season, but here our biomass is dependent on cutting down trees to run the biomass plant. So the biomass plant here depends on overdevelopment, and I am against overdevelopment.”

Alachua County Commission candidates were next onstage. Anthony Johnson discussed the need to limit and remove nitrates from the springs and rivers that flow through north central Florida counties, advocating for a mutual effort that would produce the greatest results in reducing the pollution running off agricultural lands leaching fertilizers and waste into the waterways. “My main concern is to push for leadership in the county to protect our water. We need to focus on the Floridan Aquifer.”

Marihelen Wheeler, current Chair of the County Commission, expressed support for an environmental education center and said she had been involved in protecting our water resources throughout her adult life and cited many examples of problems that she had worked to correct from water issues to drilling and fracking all across the state. "My concern is sustainability, global warming and climate change - that’s going to affect the way that people are actually moving inland into our area and to Alachua County. So we need to work better with our developers. They've got to understand what's happening to the environment and they've got to address those issues. We've got to make sure that our trees stay in place. 

"To answer the earlier question, yes, I support the education initiative that you asked about. Yes, I believe as a former teacher, we need the environmental education center, to protect our water and our environment and focus on our core services like roads and public safety."

County Commissioner Ken Cornell cited the extensive measures Alachua County has already taken toward protecting the local environment. "It's important that we continue to invest in our kids and our neighborhoods, protect our environment and to focus on our core services like roads and public safety. And yes, I support the environmental education initiative - this county commission has demonstrated a real dedication to protecting the environment and planning for the future. I believe I am the only candidate in my district who is a strong supporter of Wild Spaces and Public Places."

Charlie Jackson referenced his role with the Alachua County Energy Reduction and Water Conservation Program in saving 17 million gallons of water at the jail and in saving $221,000 a year in a county-wide electricity retrofit for lighting. “We are an agricultural state, but we may not be able to grow crops if we don’t control climate change in Florida.” 

Mayoral Candidate Adam Rosenthal said he is focused on making sure all our decisions are based on love and not just the bottom line. “How can we spend a little bit more money to make sure that we are maximizing love in our community?”

Current City Commissioner David Arreola said he believes climate change is the greatest threat facing this generation and his future children. He advocates ceasing to burn fossil fuels, bringing back carbon science-based targets for carbon emission reduction by 2030. He is in favor of an electric vehicle infrastructure throughout the city and has worked to support zero waste and to pass energy efficiency standards for rental properties. “I’m glad the environment is getting the spotlight here at the end of this contentious campaign.”

Ansaun Fisher said that as a single father he has great concern about the climate and future, citing a report that temperatures downtown are six degrees hotter than outside the city at the airport. “I’m happy to be here and I appreciate that you’re bringing awareness to these important issues, and that’s one of the reasons that I’m running for mayor.”

Harvey Ward, who is also a city commissioner, says one of his top goals is to establish utility-scale solar in the next year. “And yes, of course I support the work of an environmental education center which really might bring together a lot of existing environmental education opportunities under one umbrella.”

July Thomas talked a bit about environmental racism and the importance of protecting lower-income families from taking the brunt of the problems, as has happened historically. “The climate crisis is here and it is the challenge of my generation. It is not just a philosophical academic discussion, it is a realistic thing that we need to plan for.”

Gary Gordon, who served as mayor-commissioner in the 1980s, says he helped create a citizen’s advisory committee to review hazardous materials and led the effort to develop a recycling program and that he suggested the idea of developing a green belt around the city to protect outlying wilderness. “What is the impact of growth and development, population growth on the aquifer? Then there are studies that indicate that increased density creates more greenhouse gasses. We’ve got to watch out for the notion that everybody can move here and then everything will be okay. It’s just not going to work.” 

Congressional candidate Tom Wells advocated replacing the Supreme Court to better address environmental issues and Brandon Peters said he wants to defund the proposed turnpike extension through north central Florida and to develop a statewide comprehensive energy policy. 

Danielle Hawk said it up to us to solve the climate crisis. “You know, I'm running in a district that is a very, very red district. And it can be really difficult for me to talk to voters outside of Alachua County about the climate crisis because they are skeptical about the validity of the climate crisis. And that's why I have chosen to talk about protecting our water as the perfect example of how they can relate to how the climate crisis is affecting our rivers, our lakes or streams. And the water problem in Florida is a perfect example of how for decades environmental legislation at all levels of government has gotten it wrong by putting big business profits and corporations first.”

Will Bullen represented State Representative Yvonne Hinson who is up for reelection in November. “She sponsored legislation to test and inform Floridians of unsafe swimming places across the state and she wants to invest in solar energy and make Florida a leader in renewable energy. Third, she wants to make sure we are no longer committed to single use plastics. She prides herself on being a climate activist.”

We wish everyone good luck and thank you for working to make Alachua County and Gainesville the best place to live!

Read the full story here.
Photos courtesy of
Trish Riley

Trish is founding director of Cinema Verde, an environmental film and arts festival held in Gainesville, Florida, since 2010. She has been dedicated to helping the world understand environmental issues and sustainable solutions since childhood, when she had the good fortune to grow up playing in the forest, then watching it torn down to make way for houses and pavement.

Trish is a national award-winning investigative and environmental journalist and author, with work published in major newspapers and national and international magazines. Her books include The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Greening Your Business (with Heather Gadonniex, Penguin 2009); The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Green Living (2007); Palm Beach, Miami, and The Florida Keys: A Great Destination (Norton 2009); and The Explorer’s Guide to South Florida (with Sandra Friend, Norton 2009).

She is a past board member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists, and an honorary member of the Golden Key International Honour Society.

She is the founder of GoGreenNation.org, a website designed to promote green jobs, resources, and businesses; and GoGreenGift.com, an eco-starter kit. She also founded Green Drinks Gainesville, a local chapter of an international networking group open to anyone interested in sustainability issues.  

SA Teen Honoured at Young Activists Summit at UN in Geneva

A South African teenager – Zulaikha Patel (19) – who protested against her school’s hair policy is one of just six youngsters from around the world who has been honoured at the 2022 Young Activists Summit (#YAS22) at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. The awards took place today during a live event with participants from […] The post SA Teen Honoured at Young Activists Summit at UN in Geneva appeared first on SAPeople - Worldwide South African News.

A South African teenager – Zulaikha Patel (19) – who protested against her school’s hair policy is one of just six youngsters from around the world who has been honoured at the 2022 Young Activists Summit (#YAS22) at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. The awards took place today during a live event with participants from 134 countries, to honour six young laureates from all around the world who are working tirelessly to advance inclusivity and solidarity. Zulaikha – along with the other five – received a donation to carry out a field project and advance her cause on the ground. This was the fourth edition of the Young Activists Summit – ‘Together we thrive’ – which has reached over 3 million people on social media. Zulaikha is an anti-racism activist who led a protest against her school’s racist hair policy in Pretoria, which made nationwide and worldwide news. She said: “What triggered me to start to organize this protest was that (…) we were being forced to assimilate to what we were not, we were being told we couldn’t wear our hair as it grows naturally, we could not speak in our own groups with our friends in our African languages. That became a war on who we are, we were forced to erase our blackness, and it triggered me to do something. I knew I had to defend my identity, (…) I had to take a stand, not just for me but for my identity and the identity of my ancestors.” The others honoured at the 2022 Young Activists Summit are: Pashtana Durrani, 24, Afghanistan – Founder of LEARN Afghanistan, a network of underground schools for girls. Keely Cat-Wells, 26, UK/USA – Founder of C-Talent, a talent agency which promotes disabled talent and changes mindsets through entertainment. Sameer Jha, 21, USA – Founder of the Empathy Alliance which advances safe classrooms for LGBTQ+ students. C’est Prévue Emmy Lusila, 22, DRC – Founder of an orphanage for street children. Sebastián Benfeld, 21, Chile – Co-founder of Escazu Ahora, a movement advancing a pollution-free environment and protecting environmental defenders. The Summit is co-organized by the United Nations Office at Geneva, the NGO dev.tv, Radio Télévision Suisse (RTS) and its Genève Vision label, and the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies. The post SA Teen Honoured at Young Activists Summit at UN in Geneva appeared first on SAPeople - Worldwide South African News.

An infusion of cash from Congress could keep the lights on in Puerto Rico

Here's what $3 billion could do to avert the next tropical storm blackout.

Puerto Rico could get $3 billion dollars for rooftop solar energy and battery storage if Congress approves a Biden administration request made earlier this week. The help is sorely needed.  The archipelago has been repeatedly hit by blackouts after a series of devastating hurricanes that crippled the electricity grid. In 2017, Hurricane Irma, which narrowly missed the main island but caused widespread blackouts, was followed by another — Maria — which killed over 4,000 people. Maria’s damage to Puerto Rico’s grid was so great that it took 11 months for power to be fully restored to the main island.       Both Puerto Rican activists and United States officials believe that investing in solar energy systems will help residents keep power on in their homes during what are certain to be more frequent and destructive storms in the Caribbean. Puerto Rico’s energy grid has been criticized for years for its unreliability under normal circumstances, even without the storm damage to power lines and generators. While a growing number of Puerto Rican households are taking the initiative to install solar panels on their rooftops, the majority of households continue to rely on electricity through the mainstream power grid, or run diesel-powered generators. Generators, however, are expensive and pollute the air.  But high costs and environmental considerations are only part of the picture. Electricity blackouts on Puerto Rico in the wake of tropical storms have exacerbated the already devastating public health and safety crises that followed. Researchers have estimated that in the three months after Hurricane Maria there was a 62 percent increase in mortality,  Many deaths following the hurricane occurred in isolated and mountainous regions where residents were unable to access outside water or medical facilities. But the lack of electricity at home may have been the biggest factor in the high mortality, as residents were unable to boil water, refrigerate food and certain medicines, or run air-conditioning in their houses. While a growing number of Puerto Ricans are installing solar panels on their rooftops, it remains too expensive for many. Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo via AP Images After Hurricane Fiona hit in September, residents who had installed solar panels on their homes were able to maintain their power even as the energy grid failed yet again. In spite of this, most households in Puerto Rico simply cannot afford to switch to solar without financial assistance offered by the federal government. The majority of census tracts in Puerto Rico are defined as disadvantaged, frequently due to high local energy costs coupled with low household incomes. Puerto Ricans as a whole pay some of the highest energy bills in the United States. In San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital, the average cost to install solar panels for a household is nearly $12,000. While that’s less than what the average household on the U.S. mainland would have to pay for home solar, the cost is too much for most Puerto Ricans; the territory’s median household income is around  $21,000.  Before Hurricane Maria in 2017, household adoption of solar energy on Puerto Rico appeared to be more motivated by reducing electricity bills. Now, simply being able to turn the lights on has become just as strong a motivation. The archipelago is also considered a favorable location for widespread solar power adoption. A preliminary study in 2021 from the National Lab of Renewable Energy concluded that transitioning to rooftop solar energy could produce up to four times the current energy needs of Puerto Rico. This potential is largely due to its high amount of exposure to sunlight throughout the year.  While some Puerto Ricans may acknowledge the value of allocating financial resources to rooftop solar energy, others are not convinced that relying on federal funds will lead to any fundamental changes on the ground.  “Since Maria, the U.S. government has made many allocations of funds that never arrive or their impacts are not seen in Puerto Rico,” said Arturo Massol Deyá, the executive director of Casa Pueblo, a Puerto Rican organization that supports community self-management projects. Instead, Massol Deyá said, Casa Pueblo and other organizations are working to develop an independent electricity grid centered on solar energy projects that are run for and by local communities in Puerto Rico.   “We’re working to break the dependency model,” he said.  This story was originally published by Grist with the headline An infusion of cash from Congress could keep the lights on in Puerto Rico on Dec 2, 2022.

CIA Venture Capital Arm Partners With Ex-Googler’s Startup to “Safeguard the Internet”

Trust Lab, founded by a former Google exec for content moderation, will identify “online harmful content, including toxicity and misinformation.” The post CIA Venture Capital Arm Partners With Ex-Googler’s Startup to “Safeguard the Internet” appeared first on The Intercept.

Trust Lab was founded by a team of well-credentialed Big Tech alumni who came together in 2021 with a mission: Make online content moderation more transparent, accountable, and trustworthy. A year later, the company announced a “strategic partnership” with the CIA’s venture capital firm. Trust Lab’s basic pitch is simple: Globe-spanning internet platforms like Facebook and YouTube so thoroughly and consistently botch their content moderation efforts that decisions about what speech to delete ought to be turned over to completely independent outside firms — firms like Trust Lab. In a June 2021 blog post, Trust Lab co-founder Tom Siegel described content moderation as “the Big Problem that Big Tech cannot solve.” The contention that Trust Lab can solve the unsolvable appears to have caught the attention of In-Q-Tel, a venture capital firm tasked with securing technology for the CIA’s thorniest challenges, not those of the global internet. “I’m suspicious of startups pitching the status quo as innovation.” The quiet October 29 announcement of the partnership is light on details, stating that Trust Lab and In-Q-Tel — which invests in and collaborates with firms it believes will advance the mission of the CIA — will work on “a long-term project that will help identify harmful content and actors in order to safeguard the internet.” Key terms like “harmful” and “safeguard” are unexplained, but the press release goes on to say that the company will work toward “pinpointing many types of online harmful content, including toxicity and misinformation.” Though Trust Lab’s stated mission is sympathetic and grounded in reality — online content moderation is genuinely broken — it’s difficult to imagine how aligning the startup with the CIA is compatible with Siegel’s goal of bringing greater transparency and integrity to internet governance. What would it mean, for instance, to incubate counter-misinformation technology for an agency with a vast history of perpetuating misinformation? Placing the company within the CIA’s tech pipeline also raises questions about Trust Lab’s view of who or what might be a “harmful” online, a nebulous concept that will no doubt mean something very different to the U.S. intelligence community than it means elsewhere in the internet-using world. No matter how provocative an In-Q-Tel deal may be, much of what Trust Lab is peddling sounds similar to what the likes of Facebook and YouTube already attempt in-house: deploying a mix of human and unspecified “machine learning” capabilities to detect and counter whatever is determined to be “harmful” content. “I’m suspicious of startups pitching the status quo as innovation,” Ángel Díaz, a law professor at the University of Southern California and scholar of content moderation, wrote in a message to The Intercept. “There is little separating Trust Lab’s vision of content moderation from the tech giants’. They both want to expand use of automation, better transparency reports, and expanded partnerships with the government.” How precisely Trust Lab will address the CIA’s needs is unclear. Neither In-Q-Tel nor the company responded to multiple requests for comment. They have not explained what sort of “harmful actors” Trust Lab might help the intelligence community “prevent” from spreading online content, as the October press release said. Though details about what exactly Trust Lab sells or how its software product works are scant, the company appears to be in the business of social media analytics, algorithmically monitoring social media platforms on behalf of clients and alerting them to the proliferation of hot-button buzzwords. In a Bloomberg profile of Trust Lab, Siegel, who previously ran content moderation policy at Google, suggested that a federal internet safety agency would be preferable to Big Tech’s current approach to moderation, which consists mostly of opaque algorithms and thousands of outsourced contractors poring over posts and timelines. In his blog post, Siegel urges greater democratic oversight of online content: “Governments in the free world have side-stepped their responsibility to keep their citizens safe online.” Even if Siegel’s vision of something like an Environmental Protection Agency for the web remains a pipe dream, Trust Lab’s murky partnership with In-Q-Tel suggests a step toward greater governmental oversight of online speech, albeit very much not in the democratic vein outlined in his blog post. “Our technology platform will allow IQT’s partners to see, on a single dashboard, malicious content that might go viral and gain prominence around the world,” Siegel is quoted as stating in the October press release, which omitted any information about the financial terms of the partnership. Unlike typical venture capital firms, In-Q-Tel’s “partners” are the CIA and the broader U.S. intelligence community — entities not historically known for exemplifying Trust Lab’s corporate tenets of transparency, democratization, and truthfulness. Although In-Q-Tel is structured as an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit, its sole, explicit mission is to advance the interests and increase the capabilities of the CIA and fellow spy agencies. Former CIA Director George Tenet, who spearheaded the creation of In-Q-Tel in 1999, described the CIA’s direct relationship with In-Q-Tel in plain terms: “CIA identifies pressing problems, and In-Q-Tel provides the technology to address them.” An official history of In-Q-Tel published on the CIA website says, “In-Q-Tel’s mission is to foster the development of new and emerging information technologies and pursue research and development (R&D) that produce solutions to some of the most difficult IT problems facing the CIA.” Siegel has previously written that internet speech policy must be a “global priority,” but an In-Q-Tel partnership suggests some fealty to Western priorities, said Díaz — a fealty that could fail to take account of how these moderation policies affect billions of people in the non-Western world. “Partnerships with Western governments perpetuate a racialized vision of which communities pose a threat and which are simply exercising their freedom of speech,” said Díaz. “Trust Lab’s mission statement, which purports to differentiate between ‘free world governments’ and ‘oppressive’ ones, is a worrying preview of what we can expect. What happens when a ‘free’ government treats discussion of anti-Black racism as foreign misinformation, or when social justice activists are labeled as ‘racially motived violent extremists’?” The post CIA Venture Capital Arm Partners With Ex-Googler’s Startup to “Safeguard the Internet” appeared first on The Intercept.

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