Standing Up for Environmental Sustainability- Somethings gotta stop, something’s gotta start

Just as every end promises a new beginning, Every beginning equally requires some ends. As yesterday marked the end of 4 fine weeks at the Broward County Environmental Protection and Growth Management Department, the immense immersions in enthralling experiences promises numerous new beginnings in my future path in journeying with sustainability.

As I am at this juncture of completing the 4 week attachment with Broward County and in excited yet anxious anticipation of the Fellows Congress next week, I can’t help but reflect on several encounters in Broward which relate to Stopping and starting-

  1. A Day At Nova Eisenhower Primary SchoolThis was a clear reminder for me to not be complacent in just seeking to stop harmful acts and redirect harmful policies in my line of work. It is equally important to consider and develop practical, pragmatic and functional solutions in this sustainability journey. .
  2. It was a very pleasant and satisfying opportunity and I am very thankful to Victor Suares, a Nature Resource Specialist of Broward County who actively engages with school students who no doubt are drawn into enchanting nature journeys either through his captivating information filled story telling indoor classroom sessions, or physically via a nature walk around the vicinity of the school gardens as he showcases and shares his abundance of knowledge in a very engaging and practical manner. Not only was I privileged to join in on several of this sessions this past Monday, but I was also equally privileged to be able to share with 3 classes of 2nd Graders the wonders of nature in the region I come from, the threats, and the need for action. With Victor’s assistance, we were able to engage the students in an interactive session as I introduced tropical habitats and wildlife. With the hope of sparking thought amongst the students, i had included several slides in my otherwise picture filled powerpoint presentation with questions and quotes on call to action. It was surprising and interesting to note the level of awareness of the 2nd graders on environmental issues and facts. After discussing threats, when asked what should be done in light of the situation, the common response were: Stop wasting, Recycle, Stop destruction of habitats, Stop this and that. At the end I couldn’t help asking. Great that we stop all the above and start recycling but is this enough? What else can we do? Do we need more space? More things? More convenience? Can we start also think of solutions, Start for instance of finding a sustainable alternative for plastics, start acquiring knowledge with a passion to grow ideas, take a stand and voice opinions.
  3. The Call for Sustainability vs The Use of Waste Reduction
  4. Many entities be it governmental, private or even non profit are passionately advocating of green growth, environmental sustainability and so forth. But having started on this journey, how true are we to the cause? Do you find single use waste products be it in the shape of plastic packaging of snacks, polystyrene and plastic utensils made available for various purposes? How sustainable and traceable are the produce served? I often find myself in such events where plastic bottled water is made available, lunch and snacks are provided in individual plastic wrapped packaging and so forth. Perhaps there is a cost or convenience factor to this equation but this situation certainly begs the question of how invested are we in our cause? Will I stop taking / accepting plastic bottled drinks and bring my own bottle? Will I bring my own cutlery/ container to avoid having to use polystyrene plates for instance? Is there much value in championing a cause but not truly living it? I am definitely no where near a 0 waste lifestyle but having met 1 Arora from Malaysia and Kathy, an aspiring minimalist from Singapore on the YSEALI programme I cant help thinking how committed I am to the sustainability cause. How much will the causes I start and advocate for be negated by the actions I am yet to stop???
  5. The Peculiar Principle of Pre-emption With these in mind, i anticipate what the following weeks have to offer and I hope to be more mindful in curbing less desirable habits and inculcating more desirable ones now knowing with more certainty that Stopping needs Sting and vice versa.
  6. In my first week in Broward County, I had visited the cafeteria of the Government centre with hopes of obtaining a nice cup of hot chocolate. To my disappointment, all cups provided are polystyrene and as I have made a commitment to avoid knowingly to use polystyrene, I had no choice but to settle with sky juice. The cafeteria is on the same floor of the County Environmental Protection and Growth Management department and I could not once again help but wonder if any attempts have been made to substitute the use of polystyrene materials with other more environmentally friendly materials. Having chatted with several Broward County EPGM officers and upon burrowing through numerous policies and regulations within the County and the State of Florida I stumbled on something rather peculiar. It seems that in USA numerous States, County and Cities have made regulations restricting or banning the use of polystyrene and plastics and numerous other places are attempting to do the same. Such is the case in Florida. In Florida, some cities have passed some regulations to restrict use of plastic or polystyrene but progress in the future development of policies and regulation and implementation of some existing policies and regulations are stifled by a peculiar creature of law- The principle of Pre-emption. It seems that State in safeguarding its supremacy and authority in legislating, can expressly or impliedly pre-empt County or cities from enacting / implementing regulations or policies and what do you know? The State of Florida has Pre-empted county and cities in Florida from legislating / implementing such laws. Now he is the kicker. I had initially thought that that this principle of pre-emption would pre-empt county or cities from taking action as State intends to standardise regulations applicable to the state. But guess what? What I read did not imply this and as I read more and confirmed with several Attorneys, there is NO Obligation or Need for State to put in place alternative standards. How peculiar. Whilst this situation have many at the legal and governance levels stuck in a conundrum of legal issues, I cannot help but wonder what this means for progress in sustainability or progress at all. My heart goes out to all the cities, county or agencies who battle the pre-emption situation in the numerous thematic areas. The act of stopping/ pre-empting in this instance regulations on plastics and polystyrene in the absence of starting the development of alternative standards seems like a step back for sustainability. I am however delighted to learn that cities such as Coral Gable have contested such pre-emption and whilst have won at the county level and is pending decision from the appeal process, have decided to forge ahead in implementing their city ban on use of certain polystyrene products. it is hopeful to see that the pre-emption whilst had not resulted in the start of state level standardised intervention, has sparked local governments to push forward and litigate the matter.

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