Young Floridians address U.N. Climate Conference in Madrid

The Seminole Tribe of Florida has never been known for acquiescing to the United States government. Despite three Seminole Wars, the U.S. government was unable to eject Seminoles from the state. These Native American people were nevertheless relegated to a few small reservations in South Florida.

Valholly Frank is a 16-year-old high school student born to a Seminole family living on the Big Cypress Reservation located on the northern edge of the magnificent yet fragile Florida Everglades. Faithful to Seminole traditions of independence, Valholly Frank refuses to accept the dictums of the State of Florida. She’s suing the state over its contributions to dangerous climate change.

Hesitant to miss additional school days after so many advocacy action absences, Valholly nevertheless traveled to Madrid, Spain, in late November. Her objective was to share her legal action experience with young people from around the world convened for the 15th annual Conference of Youth (COY15). This annual youth event precedes COP — the U.N. Conference of Parties to the Kyoto climate change convention. The 25th annual COP is being held this year in Madrid, after civil/political unrest in Santiago, Chile, forced the relocation of COP25 on very short notice.

Valholly is one of eight Florida young people who filed suit against Florida in 2018 contending that by perpetuating an energy system based on fossil fuels, the state is contributing significantly to climate change and harm to Florida’s essential public trust resources, such as beaches and marine life.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/Michal Fidler, Campus Climate Corps
Sixteen-year-old Big Cypress Seminole, Valholly Frank, talks climate change with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the UN climate change conference in Madrid, Spain.

Representing the Florida eight is a team of Florida’s top trial attorneys. Our Children’s Trust, a group that is also supporting 21 youth in a case against the U.S. federal government over the same fundamental injustice — that the executive branch of the federal government is not providing equal protection under the law, a right granted citizens by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — are supporting the Florida eight as well. The plaintiffs contend the government is failing to leave its youth a livable planet and hence any viable rights to life, liberty, and property.

Whereas the world sees the U.S.A. as a laggard among developed nations for its failure to lead or even consistently cooperate in global efforts to confront the climate crisis, Valholly told COY15 attendees that young people in America are now demanding action. They are using every tool within their reach, and this work will soon begin to effect change throughout the U.S.

Valholly delivered her COY15 remarks at the invitation of Campus Climate Corps, one of many groups granted session slots by YOUNGO, the student organizers of the annual event.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/Michal Fidler, Campus Climate Corps
Sixteen-year-old Big Cypress Seminole, Valholly Frank, meets with young people at the U.N. Conference of Youth in Madrid, Spain.

Recent University of Florida graduate in Natural Resource Economics Rock Aboujaoude Jr. set the stage for Valholly’s presentation by recounting to the audience the history of U.S. involvement in and reactions to the climate crisis. Rock explained how, reminiscent of U.S. conduct on the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, which President Bill Clinton signed, but a Republican U.S. Senate refused to ratify and George W. Bush did not support, the U.S. has now also balked on the Paris Agreement of 2015. This agreement was championed and approved by President Obama, but was subsequently disavowed by President Trump immediately after he assumed office in 2017.

With COY15 now concluded, Valholly is staying in Spain for COP25 to share her experience of confronting the government on its continuing climate failures. COP25 began on Dec. 2 and concludes on Dec. 13.

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