News Coverage

13 January 2023

MIAMI HERALD: Communities of Color see the First and Worst Impacts of Climate Change. Let’s Change That

Category: News Coverage

Mi comunidad, unidos a través de idioma, cultura, comida, música, agua, tierra y más — my community, united by a diverse yet common language, culture, food, music, land, water and more.

As a Floridian, my connection to nature is rooted here, but broadened through my journey with the Marine Corps and, after that, through my scholarship at Miami Dade College and Florida International University. And my love for nature continues to thrive, despite the concrete rising around me.

For many of us, our ancient swamps, thick forests, colorful flowers, abundant wildlife, winding rivers and warm ocean waters inspire us and are the backdrop for some of our fondest memories. But as Florida’s population grows and urban sprawl ripples outward, we must take action.

In 2023, we have an opportunity to adopt and adapt 30x30 federal legislation to protect our lands and waters. That is, conserving 30% of lands and waters around the world by 2030.

Communities of color have front-row seats to the first and worst impacts of climate change and lack access to urban green space. The good news is Florida has numerous non-governmental organizations and programs that have successfully championed conservation, protection and restoration efforts, including the Everglades Restoration Plan, Environmentally Endangered Lands Program, Florida Forever and the most recent, Saving Biscayne Bay plan. But the work is far from over.

Protecting the environment is not just an American ideal, it is a fundamental human need. Our communities need clean air and drinking water, healthy food, diverse wildlife, the ability to fish and hunt, and space for recreation and to engage in our spiritual practices.

As a Marine Corps combat veteran, I have firsthand experience with how vital it is to connect with the land. Personally, it’s been an essential part of my physical and mental recovery process — however, the path has not been easy. For me, recovery has looked like hiking the wetlands in Everglades National Park, farming in the Redlands, diving the Maritime Heritage Trail in Biscayne National Park, fishing off a pier, urban farming at Florida International’s Organic Garden and Food Forest, working with bees, and kayaking in Oleta River State Park.

The mission to conserve 30% of lands and waters globally by 2030 may be a lofty goal, but it can inspire and motivate us to unite our efforts to ensure our children can cultivate experiences and memories here in Florida, as many of us have carried from our countries of origin.

I am an Afro-Cuban scholar, educator and advocate. My work, like a drop of water in the sea, can be acted upon locally and thought about globally, just like 30x30. Together, we can bring the deluge of awareness, necessity and community leadership required for social and environmental change during these unprecedented times.

It’s time for us — todo nosotros — to not just try to meet the 2030 goal, but to push to exceed it; not just for us, but also for emerging and future generations to have a space that generates life, supports our well-being and brings us peace while continuing to develop a legacy of respect, commitment and connection to the natural world around us.

Written by Oceans Advisory Council member, David Riera, for the Miami Herald.

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