For Gainesville activists, a slow boil on rising seas

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In a community full of environmental activists, none are cramming commission meetings or taking to the streets to protest climate change and sea level rise.

But evidence all around Alachua County points to residents, government, businesses and institutions acknowledging the changes taking place on earth and taking action to try to stem them.

The University of Florida’s Office of Sustainability has an energy conservation and climate change implementation plan that impacts every facet of campus including academics, research, buildings and transportation.

Explore the Rising Seas special report from GateHouse Media.

Alachua County government designs new buildings to be constructed to green standards — one example of many programs by commissioners to reduce carbon emissions.

And it is not uncommon to see “We Are Neutral” signs in Gainesville yards and in front of businesses to let others know they are offsetting their carbon emissions — widely cited by scientists as the major contributor to climate change.

So while climate change and the sea level rise it is causing are are happening, they are not an impending threat — at least inland. Still, the issue is among the most important for environmentalists, said Jim Gross, executive director of the Gainesville-based Florida Defenders of the Environment.

“It is the paramount environmental issue of our era. We can talk about springs drying up and that is immediate, that’s happening today, but sea level rise has been going on for quite some time,” Gross said. “It’s not an issue that, per se, has any activity going on for us. There are no projects, there is no litigation. We’re not doing any fundraisers for these kinds of things. But we take a stand on issues.”

Gainesville’s chapters for national or international organizations such as Citizens’ Climate Lobby and the Sierra Club have members who contact elected officials locally, throughout Florida and in Washington to try to convince them to enact laws and policies that will be put the brake on carbon emissions, said Gainesville’s Abhaya Thiele, Florida Coordinator for Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

Susan Nugent, who is involved with several groups, said she believes it is important to hammer the need for changes to stem climate change on all levels.

Nugent lobbies in Washington and attends conferences in Florida as part of her activism. She speaks to various clubs and organizations — for instance, explaining to garden clubs how a Florida friendly landscape helps the climate.

Most recently, she has joined others in trying to convince the city of Gainesville to do more to cut carbon emissions.

Her interest in climate change began when she lived in the Keys and became concerned about the future of the Key deer, which is declining in numbers because of development.

“Suddenly it dawned on me that it’s really all about us as a species too — if we are going to survive we need tremendous adaptation to lots of changes,” Nugent said. “The most important thing that any activist can do is work on policy change...We’re constantly trying to move those in the political circle forward on climate issues and how to solve them.”

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