The United States may have backed away from the worldwide response to global warming, but Florida doesn’t have to retreat.
In fact, Florida has many reasons to become more engaged. No state is more vulnerable to hurricanes. Roughly 2.5 million residents live within 4 feet of the high tide line. Broward and Miami-Dade counties have more such residents than any state except Louisiana. If sea levels keep rising at their current rate, the risk of storm surge will double in 13 years.
Even Gov. Rick Scott, whose administration won’t utter the words “climate change,” presumably can understand the economic argument for a vigorous response. Tourism promotion depends on beaches, not just theme parks. South Florida and Tampa Bay, the urban areas most affected by climate change, drive the state’s economy.
There’s also a personal angle. Scott’s $15 million home is near the Gulf of Mexico in Naples. The city’s elevation above sea level is 3 feet.
Jim Beever is the principal planner at the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council, which includes Scott’s hometown. He believes government still can avoid the worst-case scenario, but only by acknowledging the threat. Beever said, “I like to say, belief in sea level rise is voluntary, participation is mandatory.”
Scott, though, constantly ducks the issue. “I’m not a scientist,” he once said. Happily, though, you don’t need to know science. You just need to read: the annual reports of successively warmer years; the reports of land ice vanishing at dangerously high rates; the reports that sea levels have risen four inches since 1992; the report by Zillow that $400 billion worth of property in Florida could be underwater in 2100. The new state budget is about $83 billion.
Though President Trump won Florida, his environmental policies amount to an attack on the state. Trump’s sort-of budget proposed a 22 percent cut to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, whose duties include hurricane forecasting and research. Cuts to the Commerce Department also included $250 million to help counties and cities prepare for rising seas and $73 million for the Sea Grant program that works with universities.
According to the Trump administration, those two programs “primarily benefit industry and state and local stakeholders. Therefore, they are a “lower priority.” Not just Florida is a “lower priority.” So are other coastal states that went for Trump — North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama and Texas.
Scott breezes by such inconvenient facts about his “friend Donald Trump.” Asked about the hurricane cuts, the governor responded, “I have not seen the detail of that.” Scott praised the state’s partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But Trump waited until late April to name a FEMA director and he still hasn’t nominated someone to run NOOA.
Similarly, Scott defended Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord by linking it to the governor’s favorite topic — jobs: “You cannot invest in your environment without a good economy.” Yet Trump’s decision won’t benefit even states that produce coal, which is the largest source of greenhouse emissions that cause global warming. Market forces have made natural gas and renewable sources more popular.
Florida, though, has almost no coal plants. Florida Power & Light recently bought a coal generator to close it. FPL is one of Scott’s biggest political patrons, and the company long has favored a tax on carbon. That’s a free-market step Congress could take. To make people use something less, make it cost more.
Multiple polls show increasing concern about climate change, even among Republicans, though the national GOP still ranges between skepticism and denial. The difficult thing politically, pollsters report, is that many people don’t see it as a personal threat — like terrorism.
Yet such prominent Republicans as Henry Paulson, President George W. Bush’s treasury secretary, consider climate change a national security issue. Miami’s Republican mayor, Tomas Regalado, says, “Climate change is the biggest challenge” his city will face.
Having taken office as the Great Recession was ending, Scott credits his policies for the state’s recovery. Beyond good timing, however, Scott’s record is less than ordinary. He could be the economic governor and venture outside his base by engaging on climate change, as many states and cities are doing. As the Zillow report warned, this rising tide could sink all boats.
Randy Schultz’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org