The wonderful state of Florida is teeming with biodiversity from coast to coast, whether that be in it’s thousands of acres of swamp in the Everglades, the winding freshwater springs sprawled around central Florida, the great Ocala forest allowing for wildlife to thrive, or even the protected coastlines where thousands of sea turtles migrate to lay their kin. Several ordinances and state mandates have been put into place in order to protect the abundance of flora and fauna that can be found in this state, however, not nearly enough has been done to not only protect these creatures, but also the citizens of Florida as well.
As I took a look at the ongoing environmental phenomenons occurring in and around this state, the unfortunate commonality of marginalized communities being the most negatively affected by climate change and global warming is ever so present. This can be seen from the alarming levels of air pollution present in one of Orlando’s most underserved communities, Parramore. Surrounded by major highways on both sides with little to no trees present to buffer the harsh pollutants raining around these homes, Parramore community members residing in their homes are forced to deal with terrible air conditions. In fact, a 2016 assessment by the state Department of Health’s Orange County office found that carbon dioxide levels inside a Parramore resident’s apartment was more than three times higher than those measured outside the apartment, falling into the EPA range of “unhealthy for sensitive groups” ― such as children, the elderly and asthmatics (Craven, 2018). Unfortunately, this is just one example of Florida’s lower income communities dealing with the brunt end of environmental matters not being taken into serious consideration. However, all is not lost. There are communities around the world that have suffered from similar environmental catastrophes that have managed to find and fund simple solutions.
Upon looking deeper into the state level protections for environmental matters such as the one I described above, I found that even if a resident of Parramore wanted to take their claim to court, there would not be a specialized court to take said claim to. According to the Eighth Judicial Circuit of Florida website, the only specialty courts in Florida are as follows: adult felony drug, mental health, felony forensic, criminal justice, mental health, substance abuse grant, and veterans treatment. Having a specialized environmental court in Florida would not only make environmental cases more viable and palpable, but it would also allow for safer living conditions for the citizens of Florida. Take Peru for example, their first specialized environmental court was established, aiming to add some muscle to its environmental laws as the country deals with illegal mining, deforestation, environmental degradation, and illicit trade in wildlife, mining equipment, and hazardous waste. After the first year of said establishment, over 3,000 environmental complaints were added to their docket. Had they not opened this branch, who knows whether these violations would have continued to go on unacknowledged or seen. Similarly, India has established an entire specialized court system labeled the National Green Tribune (NGT) as of 2011. With multiple branches across the country, specialized environmental judges and scientific experts settle cases pertaining to the environment. In some cases, instead of just handing down judgments, the court practices a stakeholder consultation process, working with the activists, companies and government institutions to come up with solutions, such as phasing out older cars to reduce air pollution (Brigida, 2018).
Establishing a specialized environmental court system in Florida would allow for the safety and health of our fellow citizens and wildlife to thrive rather than survive. Following in the footsteps of the nations around us that face similar issues would not be a bad idea, considering the wellbeing of our residents is of utmost importance. If this article is something that resonates with you, please do not hesitate to reach out to your local legislators to file a statement regarding this alarming issue.
Brigida, A. (2018, April 24). Around the world, the environment is finally getting its day in court. Public Radio International. Retrieved March 30, 2022, from https://theworld.org/stories/2018-04-24/around-world-environment-finally-getting-its-day-court
Craven, J. (2016, March 8). Indoor Air Assessment Report For Jacqueline Young’s Griffin Park Unit. Department of Health Orange County. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/4357328-Indoor-Air-Assessment-Report-For-Jacqueline.html
The Eighth Judicial Circuit of Florida. (n.d.). Speciality Courts. Eighth Judicial Circuit. Retrieved March 30, 2022, from https://circuit8.org/departments-services/specialty-courts/