LauriLee Thompson of Titusville, a fifth-generation Floridian, was raised on the Indian River Lagoon, one of the most biodiverse waterways in the state. Her grandfather owned a fishing pier; her father built boats. She grew up to become a commercial fisherman and now runs the family’s seafood restaurant.
She also is on the board of the Hubbs Seaworld Research Institute, where she is described as “an important advocate for the promotion, protection and use of our natural resources in a responsible manner.”
She is alarmed by what is happening to the ocean and rivers—especially the summer’s devastating algae blooms that have killed fish by the ton, as well as dolphins and manatees. She is a vocal advocate for restoring and preserving waterways.
“I’ve depended on Florida’s healthy environment to make a living. If we don’t get political and change the leadership in our communities, our environment is going to continue to deteriorate,” Thompson said. “I’m still a commercial fisherman. We serve local seafood in our restaurant. This isn’t just an environmental issue to me. It’s economic.”
Cara Fleischer of Tallahassee is alarmed, too. Her environmental wakeup call came when her infant daughter developed asthma, which was aggravated by the smog in Atlanta where they were living.
Their pediatrician advised them to move. Fleischer and her husband closed their business, sold their newly remodeled house and moved to Tampa in 2004, just in time for three hurricanes.
“I had been paying attention to air quality,” Fleischer said. “In Tampa I started paying attention to warmer waters triggering bigger storms. It all started coming together. We couldn’t fully insure our house because it was so close to the bay. From a Christian perspective, God was opening my eyes to what was happening in my home state.”
They moved to Tallahassee, where they were closer to Cara’s family and to the Florida Legislature, where Cara spends time as a citizen environmental lobbyist.
She’s active in Mom’s Clean Air Force and the Citizens Climate Lobby and goes to Washington to lobby Congress on environmental issues. She also writes a blog for the Tallahassee Democrat and helped organize a Creation Care ministry at her church, St. Paul’s United Methodist Church.
Sharyn Ladner of Coral Gables represents the United Methodist Women on the Florida Conference Creation Care Task Force. UMW has made climate justice one of its primary issues for the quadrennium, urging Methodists “Be Just. Be Green.”
In April 2017, Ladner helped organize a UMW group that joined the People’s Climate March in Miami. Another group of Creation Care representatives participated in the march in Washington, which included a daylong prayer vigil.
On a national level, UMW is speaking out on issues like greenhouse gas emissions, which are warming the planet and is bringing attention to the fact that environmental issues are a social justice issue, as well, because it has a greater impact on lower-income and indigenous people, Ladner said.
She added that UMW also is leading a consciousness-raising effort in local churches, helping educate people about environmental issues, assessing their own impact and coming up with strategies to protect God’s creation.
Ladner is dean of Mission U, which has had studies on Creation Care and climate justice for the last three years at Florida Southern University and Bethune-Cookman University.
Ladner said she often is asked to speak on climate issues but is not surprised to encounter resistance.
“Most people need to have their awareness level raised,” she said, “But I get pushback. It is so overwhelming. It’s hard to know where to start.”
That pushback often comes from a political point of view.
“Global warming, the sea level rise, algae blooms. It’s all part of climate change and we have a governor who won’t allow his staff to use the words ‘climate change,’” Ladner said.
“I live in Coral Gables, which has banned Styrofoam and plastic bags. But you can’t put solar panels on your roof if they are visible from the street. It’s things like that.”
There is a call for churches to become involved in protecting God’s creation.
We’re not going to reinvent the wheel, but we can join forces with other organizations and faith-based partners,” she said.
Being an environmental advocate doesn’t always mean manning the barricades. People can write letters, send emails, make phone calls.
“Phone calls count,” Thompson said. “Someone on the other end is making hash marks for and against. Methodists are historically activists. The church needs to take a leadership role.”
--Lilla Ross is a freelance writer in Jacksonville.