In Florida, there's practically a war on nature. Wild animal habitat is constantly taken over by homes, highways, Walmarts, and FIU's sports fields (grrrr). Oil drilling and fracking are always-looming possibilities. Thanks to sugar growers, runoff, and roads, Lake
It's easy to whine and complain; it's tougher to take action. Yet every day, a small, dedicated, certainly underpaid and mostly unheralded class of individuals goes to work to combat our environmental challenges. They follow boring-ass administrative hearings. They decipher complex regulatory documents. They sound the alarm when there's an important petition to sign or a vote to cast. When necessary, they file the lawsuits, and when we're lucky, they even run for office.
To these folks (OK, we crammed in more than 19), especially on Earth Day (today!), some thanks are in order:
Matthew Schwartz: "It's the best of times, and the worst of times. People are more aware of environmental issues — but we're facing more threats than ever before," says Schwartz, a Brooklyn transplant and founder of the South Florida Wildlands Association, basically a one-man operation that tracks and counters threats to the environment, like proposed FPL power plants and housing developments that will destroy panther habitat. If there is a concerning bill or an important hearing, Schwartz will likely be the first one filing opposition and talking to the media. To earn a living, he leads bike and kayak tours in the Everglades. "It's not just gloom and doom," Schwartz says. "There's still a lot of beautiful stuff people should go and enjoy." Maybe one day his nonprofit will bring in enough revenue to pay himself a salary, start and
Sam Van Leer: Van Leer, who grew up on Key Biscayne, is another person who more or less single-
Kristin Jacobs: All the lobbying and petitioning in the world is a big waste of breath if there are no people in office to vote the right way. Few things are as unsexy as the local zoning board... and few things so consequential. But Jacobs, a Broward College grad, started there. Then she tackled the county commission. Now, she's a state representative. She was one of the first to take action on
Michael Madfis: Can we save the world through vegetables? Maybe. Urban farmer Michale Madfis is a licensed architect, sustainable planner, and master grower of kale. As the owner of Fort Lauderdale Vegetables LLC and leader of the Broward Food System Cooperative, he develops real-world solutions showing how we can meet our needs for food and housing in a sustainable way. There's a whole corps of gardeners and farmers in South Florida who deserve credit for advancing ideas around permaculture and community gardening, but he is one of the best evangelists... and has some killer style to boot. (The bow ties!) Check out his vision for how to "merchandise urban farming" though visionary ideas like "extreme
Stephanie McMillan: There's working within the system, and then there's working outside of the system. McMillan, a cartoonist, thought-provokingly traces environmental problems back to their ultimate source: capitalism! Is that "radical"? Or just logical thinking? McMillan has fun with being labeled an extremist; you gotta love her calendar, “365 Daily Affirmations for Revolutionary Proletarian Militants.” Recently, she published a comic about the Flint water crisis — in Forbes, of all places. Love the subversiveness!
The Miccosukee Tribe: Sugar farms and modern developments pour pollutants into Lake Okeechobee, and dirty water from
Rachel Silverstein: Silverstein has the coolest job title: "The Miami Waterkeeper." Scientist, scuba diver, legal advocate, and spokesperson, Silverstein followed the disaster when PortMiami was dredged and ended up killing acres of coral. Now, as Port Everglades is also set to be deepened and widened, she's intervening to see that Broward's coral don't meet the same sad fate.
Ron Bergeron: Not all conservationists are dyed-in-the-organic-cotton liberals. "Alligator" Ron Bergeron wears blue jeans, a killer mustache, and a belt buckle the size of your head. He runs a rodeo and drives a gold-plated Hummer. A builder and garbage company magnate, he has constructed roads all over South Florida. But he brings
Richard and Siouxzen Whitecloud: Two days before this couple was set to move out of Florida, Siouxzen saw some sea turtles run over. The Whiteclouds scrapped their plans, stuck around, and devoted their lives to protecting the critters. They formed a nonprofit called Sea Turtle Oversight Protection, got specially trained to monitor turtles during nesting season, and now lead a small army of volunteers who stay awake all night from March to October. The results have been phenomenal: Turtle populations rebounded to record highs in 2013. The Whiteclouds are constantly working to get politicians and businesses to value the environment over the almighty dollar. The awesomely outspoken Richard challenges cities to enforce sea turtle lighting laws. "Just pick one," he pleads. "Pick the biggest violator. Slap a big fine on one, bring their ass in court."