By Chris Castro
As a second-generation Cuban-American, I was fortunate to grow up in Miami with a unique connection to the environment. My parents owned a palm tree farm and in my free time, if my hands weren’t working in the soil, I’d be out surfing the coastline with friends or exploring the beauties of Biscayne Bay.
That indelible connection to our land and our sea is what led me toward a career in environmental science and policy creating social entreprises, organizations, coalitions, and local solutions that advance cleaner, healthier, and more sustainable communities. Today, as the head of the City of Orlando’s urban sustainability and resiliency initiatives, I work to implement policies and programs that push the city and its community partners forward in a more environmentally friendly way.
Orlando is proud to share that our city has been selected as a winner of the American Cities Climate Challenge. Through this @BloombergDotOrg program, we’ll receive support to create a healthier, more sustainable and resilient city. #Cities4Climatepic.twitter.com/q1TdukDkeF— Chris Castro (@castroideas) January 11, 2019
Climate change poses serious threats to our health and well-being, as well as to the planet. And based on the science, our window of time to act keeps shrinking. Here in Florida, the sea level is rising and causing coastal and inland flooding, even on sunny days; the summers are warmer and longer; storms and hurricanes are more intense; and there are significant concerns over salt water intrusion into the freshwater now serving 8 million people in the South Florida region. Climate scientists are already predicting that, by 2050, roughly 2.5 million South Floridians could be displaced due to sea-level rise and diminishing water supply if more isn’t done soon to reduce the warming of the Earth.
While these facts and scientific projections are sobering, and the need for action is more urgent than ever, I am still optimistic that meaningful solutions are already at hand and being implemented by businesses, corporations, governments, nonprofits and philanthropies, and community groups around the country. We need to embrace them and scale them, where appropriate, as soon as possible.
We are steadily transforming our city into a national leader in sustainability in regards to clean energy, green buildings, local food systems, zero waste, urban ecology, transportation, and more. Orlando and its academic, transportation, and utility partners are on the cutting-edge for innovation. Together, we’ve enabled more than $500 million in clean energy financing for home and business to embrace clean energy technology; we’re experimenting with solar carports in parking lots and floating solar panels on retention ponds, testing electric buses and autonomous shuttles in our downtown bus rapid transit system, and piloting a system that uses algae pools to trap carbon instead of releasing it into the atmosphere. Our community is also pioneering new models to grow more of our own food right here in our backyards, helping to address food insecurity in neighborhoods throughout our city.
Our overarching climate goals in Orlando are to generate all of our energy from carbon-free sources, achieve zero-waste to landfills, and reduce our carbon footprint by 90% by 2050.
As the most visited destination in America (72 million visit each year), we can showcase and share these solutions with people from all over the world, so they can replicate. Orlando is the true experimental prototype city of tomorrow, today.
There’s a misconception that acting urgently on climate change and moving toward sustainability is going to negatively impact our economy, but that’s not true. The documentary Paris to Pittsburgh does a beautiful job showing the economic opportunities and job creation sustainable energy has for our future — not just opportunities for highly trained engineers or environmental scientists, but ensuring this is an equitable and just transition for those in need of work.
Climate change is often looked at as an insurmountable problem. People too often get stuck in that endless negative loop, thinking, “What can one person really do?”
My answer to that is pretty simple and empowering. Every decision we make, as individuals, can negatively or positively affect our planet--whether it’s about how we get to work, what we’re putting in our bodies, how we dispose of our waste, what companies we support and products we buy, and who we vote for. When you begin to scale our good choices by millions of people, and then billions, a positive cascading effect takes hold.
We can also choose to elect officials, like my boss, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, who not only believe in the science and the urgency, but also actively work to prepare for the threats of climate change through local policies and action. The government — along with the independent, private businesses, and civil society — all play prominent roles in making our future what we want it to be.
My daughter, Coraline Danielle Castro, isn’t even 2 years old yet, but having her in my life has given the work that I’m doing even greater urgency and purpose. It’s not just about Orlando or the Central Florida region. It’s about the world that Coraline and her generation are going to inherit.
We’re living in an age when we’re more interconnected than ever. Our actions in our own backyard, and the best working solutions we can find, have impacts and implications all around the world. Great ideas are powerful tools, and meant to be scaled, along with optimism for what is attainable. Which is why I hope you will watch this documentary, become involved in your community, and make your own, personal sustainable policies and practices stick.
How to Watch Paris to Pittsburgh
This climate action documentary from Bloomberg Philanthropies is currently available free streaming on National Geographic’s digital platforms, including the network’s website (NatGeoTV.com), mobile app (Nat Geo TV App), Video On Demand, and connected devices (such as Roku and AppleTV).
Chris Castro is the director of sustainability for the city of Orlando. As the head of Orlando’s urban sustainability initiative under Mayor Buddy Dyer, Chris Castro works with government officials, communities, and organizations to implement climate-related policies to propel Orlando towards a clean energy economy. Castro’s sustainability initiatives have included solar energy development, building efficiency, electric vehicular transportation, water quality, local food systems, and ecological restoration. Under Castro’s leadership, Orlando was named an automated-vehicle proving ground by the Department of Transportation and was one of five cities named a winner of the Smart Cities Council Readiness Challenge for its work on smart transportation. He was born in Miami, Florida, where he grew up surfing and gained a deep appreciation for the oceans and natural environment.