By Annika Minton | email@example.com
Last fall, a group of environmentalists attending Flagler College decided to start an initiative group they call Climate Action St. Augustine. Motivated by their love for the nation’s oldest city and the activism of Greta Thunberg, the group hopes to encourage environmental awareness by integrating science with political action.
Perhaps the most important step in working toward their goal is voting representatives into office who share similar environmental values, which is exactly why Climate Action St. Augustine is heavily focused on the campaign of Barbara Blonder.
Blonder is running for City Commission Seat 2, hoping to tackle St. Augustine’s issues of flooding, sea level rise and more.
Going on her 19th year living in St. Augustine, Blonder has seen firsthand the effects of sea level rise in the last couple years.
“My 102-year-old house flooded twice. And it’s never flooded before,” Blonder said.
This flooding, along with the migration of mangroves and increasing king tides are all changes Blonder hopes to address and work on if elected City Commissioner.
Blonder said the city is doing a lot to address these issues; however, “it takes grants, lots of support, and a good staff” to facilitate changes that will make a difference in the quality of life.
While Climate Action St. Augustine is focused on the entire city, the Sustain Club of Flagler College is helping bring these same initiatives to campus life. Vaishnavi Gundakaram, Flagler College senior, stays involved with the city’s Climate Action group, while also serving as Vice President of Sustain Club.
She is making good use of her coastal environmental science and biology minors to take a science-based approach in addressing laws that will protect the city and the environment.
“What makes her [Blonder] so special is that she is doing this because she genuinely cares and wants to see a change,” Gundakaram said.
Because the group is fairly new, its main focus currently is building a solid foundation to expand upon and using members’ voices to urge policymakers to act quickly.
The Climate Action St. Augustine group showed up to several St. Johns Board of County Commissioners meetings toward the end of 2019, and each member was able to go up and voice their environmental concerns and solutions to the Board.
Members urged lawmakers to “update land development code and protect areas that serve as natural stormwater management,” Gundakaram said.
Gundakaram said that the group’s first step in making real change is to get people like Blonder in office “because she has a science-based platform.”
“I want to be able to bring my kids to St. Augustine and show them where I went to college,” said Gundakaram. However, she and many others worry that they will not be able to do that unless policy changes are made that will preserve and protect the nation’s oldest city from all of the damaging environmental changes that are occurring.