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Albert Einstein famously said, “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Thinking differently has never been a problem for Chris Castro, the Director of Sustainability for the City of Orlando and a self-proclaimed ‘ecopreneur,’ who has made it his mission to catalyze change through organizations such as IDEAS for US, Fleet Farming and Citizen Energy.
The UCF alumnus has given back to his adopted Central Florida community with his devotion toward ameliorating the symptoms of global warming. His goal: to create a model of sustainability that can be replicated throughout the world.Learn more about Chris and how he plans on saving the planet in his Fluent in Floridian episode with Heidi Otway.
If you enjoyed this episode, you might enjoy our episodes with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Miami-Dade County CRO Jim Murley, and Florida Conservation Voters Executive Director Aliki Moncrief.
Chris Cate: Welcome to the Fluent in Floridian podcast, featuring the Sunshine State’s brightest leaders talking about the issues most important to the people of Florida and its millions of weekly visitors. In this episode created by SalterMitchell PR, our executive producer, Heidi Otway, the president of SalterMitchell PR, talks to Orlando’s Sustainability Director, Chris Castro.
Heidi Otway: Chris Castro is the Director of Sustainability and Resilience for the City of Orlando. A life-long ‘ecopreneur.’ He’s founded and co-founded several innovative projects that helped turn his passion for sustainability into action. He is now charged with positioning Orlando as a model community for sustainability, clean energy and climate action. Well, Chris, thank you so much for joining us for this episode of the Fluent in Floridian podcast.
Chris Castro: Thank you for the invite, it’s a pleasure to be here.
Heidi Otway: I shared with you earlier that I have been following the work that you do with the City of Orlando with your very active and engaging LinkedIn profile. I think I know a little bit about what you’re doing now, but I really want to go back to the beginning. You were raised in Miami, you currently live in Orlando. I’m sure while you were growing up you heard about climate change and sea level rise, but you got involved in these issues and have taken it to a whole other level. What caused or generated your interest in the environment and sustainability?
Chris Castro: Well, growing up as a kid in South Florida, I actually grew up on a palm tree nursery. My stepdad had a small family business, and my mom was a teacher, a public school teacher. At first, being raised in a household that really nurtured and tried to give me experiences in the environment, I at first took for granted, but now when I look back in hindsight, I realize that it was really setting the foundation for what I feel is a long term career and what I want to devote the rest of my life to. When I was a kid, I remember going down to the Florida Keys, to Playalinda, Islamorada, and others, and just being able to, not only just embrace the beauty of Florida’s Keys, but just enjoy the wonderful natural environment down there, the coral reefs, the fishing that’s down there, just the overall environment. Growing up on the Biscayne Bay, it’s hard not to fall in love with the oceans. That was really what I think has rooted me in being passionate about the environment.
We realize we’re in a day and age right now where the oceans are being impacted negatively, and everything, from obviously the rising temperatures of the oceans impacting coral reefs. Right now we’re seeing a lot of Florida’s coral reefs being bleached because of the increase in water, ocean acidification, and just the pollution that the oceans are now witnessing as it relates to our addiction to plastics and other non-biodegradable products. For me, that was one of the reasons why I thought, if there’s anything I want to devote my life to, it’s protecting the oceans and figuring out ways in which we can find harmony and balance between our civilization, and the natural world that has been here for millions and millions of years prior to us.
Heidi Otway: Wow. So, when you were younger and you committed to sustainability and helping our environment, tell me the steps that got you to where you are right now. You went to the University of Central Florida, is that right?
Chris Castro: Yeah, that’s correct. I went through my grade school down in Miami, Florida and then really wanted to get out of Miami and experience other parts of the state, and I was fortunate to get a full ride scholarship to the University of Central Florida. Believe it or not, I was undeclared getting into UCF, not really knowing that this was the area I wanted to study per se. But I ended up taking an intro class to environmental science and policy with who has turned out to be one of my most prominent mentors, Dr. Penelope Canan. As an environmental sociologist, her course was really showing the impacts that we were having on the environment in our day-to-day lives. Everything from the food that we’re eating, to the water that we’re consuming, to how we’re generating the electricity that we use every day, and just the overall impacts on the environment. That really shed light to further strengthen my passion towards protecting the environment and wanting to do something about the issues that we are facing in the 21st century.
So I decided to get with a small group of students at UCF, and create what’s known as IDEAS For Us. We were first a small student group at UCF trying to implement solutions. We weren’t necessarily an environmental advocacy organization that was talking about the problems and trying to protest the issues. We were more of an environmental action organization that was trying to mobilize the expertise and the knowledge base of the students at UCF and start to come up with innovative solutions that solve these issues, first and foremost. We wrote grants to install solar on our campus, we created the on-campus community garden, we started recycling throughout the dorms, and the list goes on of types of projects.
And over the last 11 years, that organization has grown into an international grassroots movement, now doing projects in over 30 countries around the world, throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, throughout Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and the Americas. Overall, that organization has truly rooted me in my passion towards empowering, educating and engaging people to be stewards of the environment and to really be sustainability champions for our future. That was really a big part of where I came from and where I am today.
Heidi Otway: Chris, did you have any idea that IDEAS For Us will become a model of sustainability for the nation and internationally?
Chris Castro: I didn’t. Earlier on, we were just really trying to use UCF as our living laboratory, and figure out what are the mechanisms that we can create change on our campus and in the surrounding community throughout Orlando. What I realized is, shortly after that, because of the use of social media and posting up pictures of our events and the work that we were doing, other students at different universities also shared the same passion and wanted to activate their student body in creating these solutions. Not necessarily just protesting the problems, but coming up with the solutions. Working with the administration, working with the operations, and the faculty, and staff, to really make meaningful change.
In the first two years, the organization went from a student club at UCF to over 25 universities across the country, and then in 2012, we became accredited by the United Nations, and the organization went viral around the world. Some of the solutions that we’ve developed have truly become models that others are emulating in different communities, both in developing countries where the infrastructure isn’t necessarily established, as well as here in the United States and other developed countries that are facing similar issues.
Heidi Otway: So, one of those programs is Fleet Farming. Can you tell us about that.
Chris Castro: Yeah. The issues around the industrial agricultural complex and our addiction to essentially, animal products has really started to galvanize some innovative thinking around, how do we start to grow food sustainably in cities, in urban areas? Fifty plus percent of the global population is living in cities today, and by the year 2050, over 70% of the population globally will be living in cities. So, as we start to encroach more and more on rural communities where we’re growing our food to build out our cities, we have to think innovatively and completely differently about how to meet our needs. So Fleet Farming really came out of a monthly event that IDEAS For Us hosts called The Hive. And it’s intended to be a think tank for sustainability. Bringing people of all ages and all disciplines together every single month to think about some of these pressing global and local issues, and then start to solve them.
We were talking about the challenges that food has and the fact that we’re transporting our food over 1,800 miles per person, per plate, per day, and how that there’s 10 calories of fossil fuels going into every one calorie that we consume from our food. We realized that that’s not sustainable. Nearly a third of global climate change emissions are coming from the agricultural sector. So the innovation came when we started to realize that one of the most untapped pieces of property that we have in our communities is the residential lawn, the homeowner lawn, that often is culprit to polluting our waters and absorbing a lot of fertilizers and pesticides. And instead, we had this epiphany of saying, “how do we activate these neighborhoods and turn them into agrihoods? How do we convert somebody’s lawn into an edible landscape that not only they can eat from, but can be shared amongst the community, specifically to those who need it most?”
So, Fleet Farming came out as a bike-powered urban farming program. Literally, everything is done by zero emission bicycles. Everything from the farming, to the maintaining, to the harvesting, to the distribution of that produce is all done via bicycles. And then we mobilize the community in growing this food. Every week we host different volunteer events. We have a bike ride called the Swarm, where people come out on their bikes and they go around the neighborhood maintaining their plots. And it’s just galvanized our community in Orlando, to really look at local food systems in a completely innovative and different light. Now we’re trying to address food insecurity and food deserts throughout, not just Orlando, but other cities in the country. We truly feel this could be a way to create jobs, to solve this food access issue, and to hopefully improve the health, and well being, and the life of those who need it most.
Heidi Otway: Chris, that sounds like a wonderful program and I love the term you use, from neighborhoods to agrihoods. I just love that. Can you tell me and tell our listeners if they wanted to start a program like this in their communities, where could they go to learn about this program?
Chris Castro: Yeah. Well, I encourage you to check out fleetfarming.org and you can fill out an online form of inquiry just to show us your interest in expanding Fleet Farming to potentially your community. We’ve tested the model in West Oakland in California, in Riverside Jacksonville, Florida, and in two neighborhoods here in Orlando. We truly feel that this is replicable model for those both, again, in developed and in developing countries. There’s a similar model of our chapters in Kampala, Uganda, who are essentially using vertical micro gardening and using the Fleet Farming model to scale what they’re doing. It’s truly, in my opinion, one of the pieces of the puzzle to solve this climate change issue and this overall sustainability issue. Yeah, I very much encourage you all to reach out to us and check it out.
Heidi Otway: I’m so thrilled to hear you talk about Uganda and Kampala. I actually went there for a mission trip several years ago with my family. It’s something that’s definitely needed there, so I hope that it grows exponentially in that community, and the continent itself.
Chris Castro: Agreed 100%. In fact, most of the chapters of IDEAS For Us are throughout the African continent. Over 15 different countries throughout Africa right now have leaders on the ground in rural communities, at universities, and in capital cities of these countries who are organizing their neighborhoods and who are trying to develop their own local solutions to this problem. I mentioned Kampala because they tailored Fleet Farming by essentially using what they call vertical micro gardening, VMG, which is a very innovative way that they themselves developed to grow vertically in very small plots. They ended up winning the Hope Prize Uganda award, and have been asked to speak at the United Nations and many other places because of the innovations that they’ve developed through IDEAS For Us. It’s been amazing to see the impact that this organization has had to, again, educate, engage, and empower people of all ages and of all locations to really take action and take these problems by the horns and try to solve them themselves.
Heidi Otway: Wow, fascinating. So in 2016, you became the director of Sustainability for the City of Orlando, which is your current role. What was the path that got you into that position?
Chris Castro: Well, actually, it was back in 2014, the City of Orlando had received a grant called the City Energy Project, and Mayor Dyer had already been for several years a champion for Sustainability. In fact, Mayor Dyer launched an initiative called GreenWorks Orlando back in 2007. And really, it was to advance his commitment making Orlando one of the most environmentally friendly, socially inclusive, and economically vibrant cities in the country. And for me to hear from an elected official, somebody who was my mayor, his passionate about the environment, and the fact that he really framed it in the triple bottom line of sustainability around people, planet, and prosperity. Most people think about sustainability and they put it into a bucket of just the environment. Sustainability is not just about the environment, it’s about a paradigm shift and how we progress as a society to ensure that we’re enhancing quality of life and public health, that we’re protecting natural resources and the environment, and that we’re creating new job opportunities and economic growth in the green economy, specifically in those sectors.
I was asked to interview for a position to help as his senior advisor on the environment and little by little, I was selected for that role, and two years later, I was promoted into directing his entire office of Sustainability and Resilience. I’ll tell you, it’s been such a privilege and an honor to work alongside Mayor Dyer, our senior staff here at the city, or CIO, or city attorneys, or CFO. Not just the C-levels, but just the overall culture that we have here in Orlando, around Sustainability has really started to grow and blossom really. Orlando has recently been recognized by many third party outlets as the greenest city in the southeast United States. In just a short window, we’ve accelerated and become a model for cities of all sizes, large, medium, and small, to accelerate policies and programs that make our cities healthier, cleaner, and overall, more prosperous and more sustainable into the future. That’s the reason why I’m sitting here in the City of Orlando.
Heidi Otway: Great. Well, you worked with our colleague, Sarah Isaac down in Orlando to start the Climate Action Coalition. And through a grassroots effort, you got the city to commit to being 100% renewable energy by 2050. Tell us about that initiative, and then we’ll take it a step further and talk about how it was recently highlighted in an international documentary. So let’s start, how did you all get that initiative going?
Chris Castro: Well, one thing that I think is so cornerstone to Orlando’s success, is our culture of collaborations and partnerships. Mayor Dyer will be the first to say that the reason we’ve excelled over the last 17 years since he’s been mayor, has been because of this overall interest for the community at large, the government, the business, the nonprofit, neighborhoods, the residents of our community, to work together to advance these bold visions that we have for our region. That same culture of collaboration, certainly resonates throughout the relationship between government and the nonprofit community. Sarah Isaac is one of our champion leaders here in Central Florida, and at the time, she was one of the chairs, she was the vice president for the League of Women Voters of Orange County.
Sarah and I, as friends, got together one afternoon and said, there is certainly an interest and a need for us to start to bring together all types of organizations, faith-based groups, those who are working on social justice and environmental justice issues, traditional environmental groups, labor interest communities, and bring them together to determine and try to define what we all want to collaborate on. What we all want to work together on. That was really the First 50 coalition, this Climate Action Coalition that was formulated a few years ago. The beauty about it is, we were able to identify, although we had separate missions, these various groups had different visions for what they want the future to be, we were able to align around certain key goals and strategies as it relates to sustainability. Many of them first and foremost, realized that climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time, it’s an existential crisis, and that Orlando had the ability for us to show our leadership in the space by committing to 100% renewable energy, as you mentioned by 2050 city wide, and for government operations by 2030.
Little by little, we began to get the support and letters of support from community groups around the country. That coalition started to meet with our commissioners, and met with Mayor Dyer and myself here at the city, and collectively, we also started to meet with our utility, Orlando Utilities Commission to determine that this was a priority, and that we had a vision that Orlando was powering itself into the future by zero emissions, clean, renewable electricity, ones that didn’t pollute our people or the planet. Little by little, we decided to pull a policy together, and we passed this policy in August of 2017, which was a historic move for our city, and little by little, we’ve started to expand dramatically, renewable energy on city rooftops, large scale utility solar farms, and even the community have really embraced this goal and started to install solar at unprecedented rates. We’re pretty excited about mobilizing the community to make this goal a reality. Just one of many that we’ve been successful in pushing forward here in the City of Orlando.
Heidi Otway: Yeah, and that vote was actually featured in the National Geographic documentary, Paris to Pittsburgh, which shows how communities and cities across Florida and the nation, are developing solutions to climate change. What’s been the response to your prominent role in the narrative of that documentary, as well as the work that you’re doing in the City of Orlando? What’s the response been to Orlando’s efforts?
Chris Castro: Well, not just in our community, but the response across the country, my peers in other cities across the nation have really reached out to me, just explaining how impressed and how inspired they were to see the work that we’re doing here in the City of Orlando. These issues, like global climate change, are so vast and so large and take such collaboration. Not one city can solve this problem unfortunately, or else, Orlando would be well on the way to solving it. But it really takes mobilizing local state and national governments around the world and getting in unison. That was the historic Paris Climate Agreement, that the accord that happened in 2015 was for the first time in history, 195 countries coming together saying that global climate change is unequivocal, it’s scientific fact, and that in order for us to sustain our ability to thrive on this planet, we need to limit the rise in temperature to two degrees Celsius by the end of this century.
That was the charge. And not only national governments agreed with that, but local government leaders like Mayor Dyer and his peers of mayors across the country, also doubled down on our commitments to reducing carbon emissions and advancing sustainability. And so this film, the National Geographic, Paris to Pittsburgh film, was our chance to showcase to the world the innovative solutions that we’re working on. One of the things that we showcased in the film was OUC’s floating solar arrays. A lot of people reached out to me saying that that’s the first time they’ve ever even considered or seen solar panels being floated on water bodies. And when you look at the state of Florida and here in Orlando, certainly no exception, the way that we manage stormwater, is by building these man-made retention ponds. It looks like Swiss cheese from an airplane.
I’ll tell you, as you fly into Orlando, you’ll see that it looks like there’s more water than land around. We realize that that is an incredible potential and opportunity for us to expand distributed renewable energy systems without needing to take out forested lands, or to disrupt rooftops that might not be able to install solar, and instead float them on these water bodies as a way for us to expand our renewable energy systems. We are already hearing from other communities that they’re now starting to explore floating solar, and it’s becoming a national movement. In fact, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, NREL, came out with a report recently following the film showing that the United States can meet 10% of all of its electricity needs, just off of floating solar, just one application of energy alone, 10% of the entire country.
That’s not wind, that’s not geothermal, or concentrated solar, or utility scale solar, even rooftop solar, that’s just floating solar. So, the potential is enormous, and we in Orlando are truly trying to become an innovative testbed for new technologies that can help us advance a clean energy future, and an economy that is robust, that’s high wage, and that is resilient to future shocks and stressors that we may face as we move into the 21st century.
Heidi Otway: I’m Heidi Otway, and you’re listening to Fluent in Floridan, the podcast created by SalterMitchell PR that features the best and brightest leaders in Florida. We’re back with Chris Castro, Director of Sustainability and Resilience for the City of Orlando.
A lot of the documentary also focused on South Florida, and king tide, and the rising waters. I’m from South Florida, you’re from South Florida, what are your thoughts and what work are you may be helping South Florida with? Are you working with them at all on the rising waters?
Chris Castro: Yeah. Well, Florida is often described as ground zero for the impacts of climate change, and sea level rise is one of those impacts that we’re seeing on a monthly basis in certain parts of our state. South Florida certainly one of those. West Florida, like St. Petersburg and Tampa, is as low lying as Miami beach is, and most people don’t even realize that. But sea level rise and salt water intrusion into our drinking water supply are major threats to the health and wellbeing of Floridians. We don’t realize that eight million plus people are dependent on clean drinking water from the Floridan aquifer that is currently as we speak, being impacted by salt water intrusion, that’s getting into these wells are ready. And so, you can imagine what happens when that salt water becomes brackish water. And now we have to invest in billions of dollars of desalination plants in order for us to meet our water demands, or even worse, not economically able to meet that demand and have people flee the City of Miami and other parts of South Florida to other parts of the State like Orlando.
Climate refugees are already apparent in different parts of this country and the world because of the impacts of sea level rise and other climate issues. Look at the massive super hurricanes, Irma and Maria, that happened just a couple of years ago that sent hundreds of thousands of people from the Caribbean islands and Puerto Rico, to Florida and other parts of this country, because literally they were nearly wiped off the face of the map. These are real, serious issues. Climate change is something that it isn’t something that’s a threat often to the decades to come, or the years to come. This is something that has been happening to us over the last few decades, and is now becoming more and more apparent that our impacts as humans are accelerating this change, and that we need to get really serious about how to solve it.
South Florida has had a southeast regional climate compact for the last 10 years. They realized that salt water intrusion and sea level rise was happening to them, and elected officials of all sides of the political spectrum came together to create a compact. It was Palm Beach-Broward, Miami-Dade, and Marion County, as well as many cities throughout, who came together and said, “We need to start collaborating across the region to address this issue because not one city or one county can solve it by ourselves.” And over the last 10 years, they have developed the model of how to work together and solve these issues. I have certainly spoken at many of their annual conferences and workshops to share the work that we’re doing in the City of Orlando to mitigate and adapt to the changing climate. And now in Central Florida, we’re beginning to emulate the work that they did down there in creating East Central Florida regional resilience collaborative.
We’re actually getting eight counties together and 78 cities, and we’re beginning to work together on developing strategies and policies across the region that that will protect us and help us to recover from future extreme weather events as it relates to climate change. It just goes to show that this is not a regional issue or a state issue, this is something that all of us need to work together to solve. And luckily, we’re at a time where the solutions are economically viable, they’re commercially feasible, and they’re socially acceptable. And now it’s a matter of scale. Now it’s a matter of getting everyone on board and ensuring, specifically ensuring that we do not leave specifically the most vulnerable communities, the marginalized and minority communities, and those who are often faced with environmental justice issues, that we do not leave them behind as we transition to a more sustainable future.
It will not be sustainable if we continue the inequities that we’re seeing throughout this country and throughout our communities. We need to completely transform the paradigm. And that’s the opportunity that Sustainability holds for our cities, and for our states, and for this country.
Heidi Otway: Well, what can Floridians do? The everyday Floridian who may listen to this podcast, what can they do? What’s the simple step they can take to help improve the environment or create a sustainable neighborhood? What can they do?
Chris Castro: Well, first and foremost, there’s a lot of individual actions that all of us can do, from making our homes more energy efficient, to trying to invest in solar, or getting a more fuel efficient car, changing your diet, so it’s not just so dependent on meat, but more plant-based and has a nice balance. Those are a lot of good things that we can do individually and they do make an impact when we start to add those up collectively. But I think what Floridians can really do to change the paradigm is: speak up. To have these conversations with our neighbors, with our family members around the table, and of course, with our elected officials. We have election cycles every year pretty much, in a city, or a state, or a federal government, and each one of those candidates wants to win our votes.
And if we’re serious about solving this issue, we need to be serious about making this issue a priority in election campaigns. We have to make sure that we’re elevating the message, even if it’s your local commissioner, or a city mayor, or a state Governor, or Department of Ag Commissioner, or the President of the United States. We need to make sure that we are asking the tough questions about what they have already been doing, and what they plan to do once they get into office. This is one of the most important things in our democracy that we can do to change the course of our future. I truly believe that organizing ourselves and our communities, like we do with IDEAS For Us through that IDEAS Hive monthly event, and getting engaged with other organizations taking action on this topic, and coming out to engage with your elected officials, whether it’s meeting with them, or having a phone call, or sending them an email, or asking them at a campaign debate.
These are all things that we can do to change the course of our history, and to elevate this issue, and I empower and employ fellow Floridians to do this for the sake of our future, because Florida is at a serious risk, and we’re being threatened right now, and we have the ability of changing the course for the better.
Heidi Otway: So Chris, how would we know, 20, 30 years from now, if we saw more people implement those action steps that you just shared, how would we know that we’ve been successful?
Chris Castro: Well, there’s a few different ways. One is, there are several metrics that we track and we monitor within the City of Orlando to determine whether we’re successful in achieving our goals. The percentage of renewable energy that our utilities are providing in our power mix is a major indicator. The amount of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions that each one of us personally have, but as well as our cities have, and tracking and monitoring that. We do that here in the City of Orlando year-over-year to ensure that we’re moving in the right direction. As well as just the overall consumption of resources. How much we’re diverting our waste from the landfill, our recycling rates are a major indicator of our success. Our overall per capita water consumption and how much water per person that we’re consuming is a major indicator of success. As well as just being able to overall protect ourselves from these issues and the amount of money that FEMA and the federal government is putting into restoring our communities after these extreme weather events.
If we can take action today in mitigating the amount of emissions that goes into the atmosphere which is fueling global temperature rise, which in turn is having this cascade effect of changing climate patterns and weather trends, and causing these damages, from forest fires in California, two major floods in Iowa that we just saw happening, to sea level rise and salt water intrusion here in our state of Florida. We are spending nearly 100 billion dollars in recovering from climate impacts every single year in America. And so, one of the major indicators is, as we start to prepare ourselves and make our communities more sustainable and resilient, how can we start to see those numbers drop and minimize the amount of taxpayer expense that we are using to restore these communities from major extreme weather events? There’s a lot that goes into it. But I will say that, it’s important that communities are tracking and monitoring very critical key performance indicators and ensuring that we are trying to solve the root problems that are accelerating these issues.
Heidi Otway: Well, Chris, I hear a lot of optimism in this conversation with you, and having watched you over the years and just seeing your passion, is there anything that scares you about all this?
Chris Castro: I am. What scares me is the future that I’m leaving for my daughter. Coraline Danielle, is about to turn two years old next week. This issue is becoming much more visceral for me as I became a parent. As I became a father two years ago, my passion and purpose in protecting the environment became much more meaningful and much more important. It’s not enough for us to create a better future for those who are currently living, we must do everything that we can to ensure that the future that the next generations inherit are better, are cleaner, are healthier, are more prosperous, than the future that we inherited. That’s our duty as humans on this planet, and the reason why we were put here, was to make the difference and hand the baton off to the next generation so that they have a better future to build from.
I am scared that the inaction that we’re seeing at the federal level, that the actions that we’re even having at the local level aren’t enough, and that the future that my daughter will inherit by the time she’s my age, is going to be a glooming issue. And this is why you’re seeing the youth around the world strike and literally skip school to put pressure on elected officials around the world to make this a priority. It’s shameful, that we have the youth stepping up, who don’t have a voice in elections, who don’t necessarily have a voice in their actions, and the youth are the ones stepping up telling the adults and telling our elected officials that we are on a trajectory for an unsustainable future. And the future that they’re going to inherit is going to be poisoned, and fouled, and polluted.
If we don’t begin to take action on that, I fear that we could enter into a future that is uninhabitable for many, for millions, and potentially, billions of people. But I am optimistic, and I do think that we can find harmony in living on this planet with as many people who we have and as many people who may inhabit this planet by the end of the century. I still think we will have a carrying capacity to sustain life if we do it correctly, if we find that balance, and that’s my charge. That’s what we got to figure out here in the City of Orlando and create a replicable model, and be that shining example for cities across the state, across our region, and across this country for us to really create sustainability in a reality.
Heidi Otway: Wow, that was a great close, and I’m glad you ended again on that optimism that just permeates from you. I could ask you a dozen more questions, but unfortunately, we have to wrap up this interview. We always like to close our interviews with four questions that we ask all of our guests, and you being a Florida native, having grown up here, I think this should be pretty easy for you. So, I’m going to throw out this first question. Who is a Florida leader that you admire? It could be someone from any industry or field, someone from the past, or someone who is still active in their work.
Chris Castro: My goodness, there are so many inspiring people who I look to in the state of Florida who have paved the way for us. Obviously, Marjory Stoneman Douglas and her just overall passion for saving the Everglades and advocating to not drain it is one that comes to mind. Jim Thomas is a friend of mine here and an environmental legend across the state. He was the founder of Friends of Lake Apopka, and basically single-handedly turned the most polluted lake in this country at one point, into a restoration showcase. He is somebody who is still around today, luckily, and it’s just an inspiration. Then another one is Guy Marwick, who founded the Silver River State Park. Guy is the president of Felburn Foundation, and is one of the most humble environmental leaders that we have in the state of Florida. There’s so many more, but those are three who really come to mind who have shaped who I am today and my passion for the environment.
Heidi Otway: Okay, great. What is a person, place, or thing in Florida that deserves more attention than it’s currently getting?
Chris Castro: In Paris to Pittsburgh, they showcase the fact that I’m a surfer and I’ve for last 20 years, been going up and down the state of Florida surfing our wonderful wave and traveling different parts of the world to interact with surfing. One of my favorite beaches that I feel doesn’t get enough attention is Playalinda. It’s the Cape Canaveral National Seashore, and it’s one of the most hidden gems in Central Florida. It’s miles of preserve National Seashore. It’s one of the only beaches that is really untouched in the state, and it’s just a beautiful place to just let go and reconnect with the natural world. It’s a very tranquil place and also home too many endangered and threatened species that we have here in the state of Florida. So certainly, I encourage people to take a trip out to Playalinda and experience it for yourself.
Heidi Otway: So, that goes right well into my next question. What’s your favorite location in Florida to visit?
Chris Castro: Whoo, that’s a tough one. But I’d go back to my roots of the Florida Keys. Just the amount of biodiversity and the life that we have in the Keys is truly once in a lifetime. It’s the only place on the planet that we have that type of biodiversity and just beauty of islands, and Barrier Reefs, and just overall, just beautiful. And so, I’d say the Florida Keys is one of those. And Central Florida, the Wekiva River, National Wild and Scenic River is also one of those hidden gems that is one of my favorites. I remember just getting lost down to Wekiva River, and just feeling just utopia. Being out there with the birds and the turtles, and all the animals out there. It’s just amazing place that we need to protect.
Heidi Otway: I also love the Florida Keys. Finally, this is a totally different direction question. Do you have a favorite Florida sports team?
Chris Castro: Ooh. Well, I have to stay true to my alma mater, the UCF Knights who have been doing an incredible job at both football, basketball, women’s soccer. I mean, you name it. I am such a big fan of the UCF Knights and I see that they have nowhere but room to grow. So, I’d have to say that UCF Knights are my favorite sports teams.
Heidi Otway: Well, Chris, thank you so much. Go Knights. Thank you so much for being a guest on the Fluent in Floridian podcast. I know you have some Big Hairy Audacious Goals that you’re going to conquer on behalf of the State of Florida, the City of Orlando, and our country, and our earth. I really appreciate you being a guest on our show today.
Chris Castro: My pleasure. Thank you so much for this opportunity.
Chris Cate: Thanks for listening to the Fluent in Floridian podcast. This show is executive produced by April Salter, with additional support provided by Heidi Otway, and the team at SalterMitchell PR. If you need help telling your Florida story, SalterMitchell PR has you covered by offering issues management, crisis communications, social media, advocacy, and media relations assistance. You can learn more about SalterMitchell PR at saltermitchellpr.com. You can also learn more about the Fluent in Floridian podcast and listen to every episode of the show at fluentinfloridian.com, or by searching for the show using your favorite podcast app. Have a great day.
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