Demonstrators water bike in Hillsborough River to call attention to climate change effects in Tampa

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Environmental advocates took to the Hillsborough River in downtown Tampa Sunday to urge local citizens and elected leaders to take action on climate change, which is expected to have have detrimental impacts in Florida.

Organizers of the protest, which consisted of activists on water bikes, want policymakers to view climate change as a crisis decades in the making that's worthy of a historic level of effort to fight it.

"We're asking for a rapid social and economic mobilization similar to the American World War II, so that we can move toward a climate that is safe, supports life and restores the climate to safety," says David Sinclair, organizer for The Climate Mobilization and Sunday’s demonstration.

The Climate Mobilization is also calling for the United States’ net greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced by 100 percent by 2025 and for millions of Americans to take part in efforts that will expand carbon-neutral energy and agricultural systems.

Right now, the Tampa Bay region is one of the top ten metropolitan areas in the world most affected by rising sea levels, according to a study conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In recent decades, local Tampa Bay residents have seen salt water intruding local estuaries and chronic flooding. Sea levels are also rising in the area at the alarming rate of an inch per decade since the 1950s.

With sea levels expected to rise even more rapidly in the near future, researchers predict that the effects of climate change will only further damage Tampa Bay.

“We cannot continue to deny that climate issues are significant,” Sinclair said. “The climate mobilization strategy elevates to the emergency level what needs to be done in our community, in our state and in our nation. It's a call for urgency… We need to work on a solution within years rather than decades.”

The way to prevent climate change from worsening and to help our environment bounce back is through real change in our economic policy in regards to our energy policy, says Debbie King, organizer for Organize Now.

“We want to see real change in where we're putting our money and how we get our energy,” King said. “We're the Sunshine State. We can be doing better.”

In addition to concerns of how climate change will affect the environment, researchers and demonstrators also say they're concerned about how low-income and minority communities will likely be hit first and hardest by climate change.

Climate Mobilization demonstrators hold up signs to raise awareness about how climate change is affecting Tampa Bay and how positive action has to be taken.

Climate Mobilization demonstrators hold up signs to raise awareness about how climate change is affecting Tampa Bay and how positive action has to be taken.

Zebrina Edgerton-Maloy

Although these communities might not be the most visible advocates for climate change, people of color are increasingly joining the climate change debate.

“The American people have been involved longer in climate change issues,” said Ana Lamb, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens Tampa council. “We, the Latino community, are getting with them to show that climate change is important for any community, no matter where you come from.”

University of Southern California’s Program for Environmental and Regional Equity found that minorities and low-income communities in the U.S. breathe dirtier air than other Americans, a problem climate change could exacerbate.

Minorities are also more likely to live in urban cities with less tree cover to reduce heat and more concrete to trap it. During extreme weather events — which are believed to be more frequent with climate change, minorities and poor people will have more difficulty evacuating because they are less likely to own cars.

Even with this extended research and scholarship, several politicians deny that climate change even exists. Governor Rick Scott is one of many politicians who have repeatedly denied that climate change is caused by human activity.

Not even recent toxic algae blooms in the state of Florida can make these politicians budge on their stance.

The Climate Mobilization demonstrators hope that local politicians, elected officials and business leaders will begin to acknowledge climate change as signs of its significant damage becomes more evident. The demonstrators are calling for solutions to be implemented that will reduce the effects of climate change, prevent minority communities from being impacted further and reestablish the quality of life in the environment.

“If you don't step up now, our children, low-income communities, black people and Latinos are going to be the ones suffering,” said King. “We can't wait… We need to step up and make the change now.”

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