PIEC seeks postive change for Florida's environmental woes
by Spenser Solis
UF Law Professor Alyson Flournoy (right) moderated the discussion, "The Cost of a Human Life" during the 15th annual Public Interest Environmental Conference on Friday. (UF Law/ Charles Roop)
The 15th annual Public Interest Environmental Conference (PIEC) gave environmentalists, scientists, lawyers and law students the opportunity to seek solutions to Florida’s environmental woes.
The law student-organized conference titled, “Beyond Doom and Gloom: Illuminating a Sustainable Future for Florida,” took place from Feb. 26-28.
Michael Willson (2L), co-chair of the conference, felt that it was important for participants to look past salacious headlines about the environment and seek positive changes.
“Something’s got to change or else we’re going to run out of things that make our state livable,” Willson said. “Bad things are going to happen, but what are we going to do to take it in another direction?”
At the conference’s opening plenary Friday morning, Eric Wachsman, a UF engineering professor, echoed Willson’s positive sentiments.
“Florida has the natural resources to be a leader in sustainability,” Wachsman said.
The PIEC allowed participants to choose from three different tracks, each consisting of a different series of sessions.
The science and technology track examined what research is currently available about Florida’s environmental situation, said Willson.
The second track focused on progressive regulation, which consists of affecting state environmental policies.
“Progressive regulation is, ‘ok, how do we integrate all this research?’” Willson said.
The third track, social marketing, emphasized methods to get the average American to understand and support environmental policy changes.
“It kind of comes full cycle,” Willson said.
Social marketing is designed to promote voluntary behavioral change, said UF agriculture Professor Paul Monaghan during the opening plenary.
Katherine Isaacs (3L) speaks during the session, "The Long Slow Flood" during the 15th annual Public Interest Environmental Conference on Friday. (UF Law/ Charles Roop)
One of the many environmental issues in Florida stems from lawn care. There are currently five million acres of lawns in the state.
“Most people are watering more during the rainy season,” Monaghan said. “Those who have an irrigation system often overwater.”
Another important issue in Florida is diesel emissions. Florida is a focal point for ships because of its large number of ports.
“Fifty six percent of the cruise ships in the U.S. leave from Florida,” said Chuck Littlejohn, an attorney with Littlejohn Mann & Associates in Tallahassee.
Port maintenance can cause a variety of problems, including disrupting wildlife, said Kelly Samek of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
“You have to dredge annually to create it, maintain it and to expand it,” Samek said. “We should care more about supporting ports.”
An afternoon session titled, “The Long Slow Flood,” addressed the dangers of rising sea levels. Florida’s coastline is particularly vulnerable to changes in sea level.
Katherine Isaacs (3L) explained how humans have disrupted natural coastal erosion patterns in Florida by building armored sea walls.
“It does have long-term environmental impacts,” Isaacs said.
Issacs suggested the construction of “living shorelines,” which use natural elements to create sustainable coastlines.
“Living shorelines are an environmentally friendly alternative to prevent homeowners from falling prey to natural erosion,” Isaacs said.
In the same session, Martha Collins, an attorney with Collins & West, expounded upon Florida’s precarious coastal situation.
“The entire state is only 0 to 150 feet above sea level,” Collins said.
Nevertheless, as the conference’s name suggests, not everything was about doom and gloom.
In a session about social marketing, Preston Robertson (JD 90), vice president of the Florida Wildlife Federation, expressed his optimism towards Florida’s future.
“Ten years ago, I was on the ‘doom’ side,” Robertson said. “Our next generation, you all, are much better prepared to be environmental stewards than my parents’ generation.”
Professor Monaghan, assistant professor of agricultural education and communication at UF, spoke about social marketing during the 15th annual Public Interest Environmental Conference on Friday. (UF Law/ Charles Roop)
The conference’s closing plenary on Saturday afternoon ended on an optimistic note as well. John Hankinson (JD 79), a former Environmental Protection Agency administrator, engaged in an impromptu harmonica performance.
“I’m trying to get everybody to march out the door without any sense of doom and gloom,” Hankinson said.
Over 30 attendees clapped along as Hankinson sang a Ry Cooder cover.
“The only reason to be workin’ is to be feelin’ good,” Hankinson sang. “The fate of the planet is in our hands.”
“That was a great note to end on,” said Simone Harbas (2L), co-chair of the conference.
Harbas hoped that participants left with a sense of empowerment about their abilities to serve as environmental stewards.
“We might not necessarily fix things or even get as close to ideal,” Harbas said. “But it’s worth a shot that they have a positive message about actually affecting that change on a small level and having a plan for the future.”