Today, approximately three dozen student activists continued the momentum at a press conference in front of the Marshall Center on the USF campus before marching to Sen. Marco Rubio's local district office to urge him to support climate change legislation.
"As temperatures rise, the risk to cities like Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater is tremendous of superstorms like Hurricane Sandy hitting us, and destroying what we've worked so hard to build," said Frank Jackalone, Sierra Club Florida staff director.
Jackalone called on President Obama to address the pollution that is "ravaging" the country. He said without any action, there will be more forest fires, flooding seas, and the possibility of losing the state's beaches. He also blasted Rubio for saying "We can't change the weather" during his State of the Union rebuttal.
"Well, Sen. Marco Rubio," said Jackalone with a slight pause in his voice, "we're already changing the weather. We're already changing the climate by throwing so much pollution into the atmosphere. We have to take action, not just government, but citizens and businesses united together."
Tampa City Councilwoman Mary Mulhern, who attended the conference, said after last year's intense weather events in the U.S. and around the world, "no one can deny that climate change is happening."
"Weather events are not partisan," added Mulhern, referring to President Obama joining up with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in the immediate aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.
Mulhern said local citizens can make a difference by advocating for more transportation options, starting with next year's proposal in Pinellas County where voters will likely have the chance to vote on a one-cent sales tax measure to help fund light-rail.
Shava Hussein from the Students Environmental Association said, "Even though some of us Floridians couldn't make it to D.C., it doesn't mean that we don't care about our environment, or recognize the urgency of climate change. In fact, many Floridians are all too aware of the repercussions of global warming."
She urged President Obama to block the Keystone Pipeline, which would carry Canadian crude oil to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico. The pipeline is supported by big business and labor groups, and vehemently opposed by environmentalists.
In today's New York Times, columnist Joe Nocera — who usually writes from a center-left perspective — bashed the Sierra Club and others who are against the Pipeline. He wrote that their logic is "backwards."
Jackalone said Nocera is "out of sync with what's going on." He added that resources that go toward increasing the oil supply set us back, and the pipeline money should go to alternative sources like wind, solar and energy efficiencies.
Jackalone said not to expect much from the Legislature when they convene next month to work on reducing Florida's carbon footprint; they've been "bought and sold by the polluters." That's why he thinks it's up to President Obama at the federal level, as well as local elected officials in Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties.
"You're seeing local governments all over starting to take this seriously," he said, adding that businesses are also getting more involved.
The press conference took place a short distance away from the USF Patel College of Global Sustainability building, where the Florida Climate Institute was hosting a day-long National Climate Assessment Southeast regional meeting.