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Young activists have pushed Florida to set clean energy goals

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Florida is expected to put new goals in place this week to transition the state to 100% renewable energy by 2050. As WMFE’s Amy Green reports, the new climate targets are thanks to about 200 young activists who demanded change from state leaders.

AMY GREEN, BYLINE: For half his life, 15-year-old Levi Draheim has been involved in litigation aimed at holding federal leaders and leaders in Florida accountable on climate change and fossil fuels.

LEVI DRAHEIM: My mom says I have a light inside of me that helps me to be a better person.

GREEN: He's at the kitchen table with his mom, Leigh-Ann Draheim.

LEIGH-ANN DRAHEIM: He just had that sort of energy about him. So I think - when he fell into this role, I think it was a good thing for him because people, for whatever reason, are interested in Levi and what he has to say.

GREEN: Her son is among the young Floridians who petitioned state leaders to follow through with a legal requirement to set goals to get to 100% clean energy by 2050, a benchmark scientists say is necessary to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. With help from Our Children's Trust, an environmental legal group, Levi and his fellow activists found something in the state statutes that leaders had overlooked - a law requiring Florida to set renewable energy goals.

In Florida, the energy office is overseen by Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat. She's running against Republican Governor Ron DeSantis this year and has railed against the governor for inaction on climate change. Still, it wasn't until Levi and the other young Floridians brought the law to Fried's attention that she took action herself.

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NIKKI FRIED: I am so proud to announce that my department has issued the first-ever statewide renewable energy goals.

GREEN: Levi says he feels a responsibility to hold leaders accountable.

LEVI: If you were given an opportunity to stop an explosion that you knew would kill everyone and you were given that opportunity to stop it - if you don't take that opportunity and you survive, that's something that will always be there.

GREEN: In 2015, Levi became the youngest plaintiff in a landmark lawsuit involving children from across the country. The case challenged the federal government for pushing fossil fuel development despite knowing the risks to the climate. Levi later joined a similar lawsuit in Florida. Both cases were tossed on appeal. But in Florida, the young plaintiffs weren't ready to give up.

Andrea Rodgers of Our Children's Trust says, when the attorneys went back to Florida statutes, they discovered the mandate for renewable energy goals. She says children are politically powerless in many ways, except in the courts.

ANDREA RODGERS: Many times, you know, over many decades it's been children leading the way, whether in the civil rights cases - you know, you look at the young plaintiffs in Brown v. Board of Education.

GREEN: In a Republican-led state where leaders have taken next to no action on climate change, Levi says his involvement in the litigation has been rewarding but frustrating. Most of his friends are supportive. But some don't understand the problem of climate change. One friend thought he should focus on racism and homophobia. Levi says he feels obligated to speak out about climate change as a person of color.

LEVI: African American people - most of time we don't live in as safe of a - as strong of a neighborhood that can deal with it. Or if we do, then it's in the area that is more greatly affected.

GREEN: With the action Levi and other young people took, Florida joins nearly half of states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico that have goals for transitioning toward 100% clean energy.

For NPR News, I'm Amy Green in Melbourne, Fla.

(SOUNDBITE OF AND SO I WATCH YOU FROM AFAR'S "THE VOICELESS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Amy Green