The federal government’s devastating report on climate change holds three especially dramatic messages:
Extremely hot weather is getting more common, and the average annual temperature in the U.S. is expected to rise by 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit in about 30 years. The continental U.S. is already 1.8 degrees warmer than it was 100 years ago.
Climate change has doubled the devastation from wildfires – as witness the deadly fires in Northern California.
And rising sea levels will force mass migrations — a nightmare with obvious, massive impact for South Florida. “Sea-level rise might reshape the U.S. population redistribution, with 13.1 million people potentially at risk needing to migrate due to a [rise] of 6 feet… by the year 2100,” the report states.
“This is the most comprehensive assessment of climate science currently available in the world,” Robert Kopp, of Rutgers University, one of the report’s lead authors, told The Atlantic, “and it reaffirms what we’ve already known.”
It affirms, as well, what the editorial boards of The Palm Beach Post, the Miami Herald and South Florida Sun Sentinel, with reporting from WLRN Public Radio, have been saying with one voice for much of this year: Sea-level rise is an existential challenge to our region, and strong action to address it is needed now.
Further, the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, which lauded our work raising awareness about the sea-level rise threat at its summit meeting last month, is mentioned in the report as a leader in “intergovernmental collaborations to address climate change, adaptation, and mitigation in the country.”
On the campaign trail, Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis said he saw no role for a state to play in combating climate change. He was dead wrong. And our region’s leaders have already provided a blueprint.
Hear this, declares this Fourth National Climate Assessment: Human-caused climate change has arrived. “The evidence is real and continues to strengthen.”
This report should be a call to action. With seeming defiance, it was produced by the same federal government headed by President Donald Trump, who has done all he can to kill measures meant to keep the negative effects of climate change in check. Now he rebuffs the report itself.
His administration released the report amid the post-Thanksgiving haze and shopping rush of Black Friday. When it failed to stay buried as the White House had hoped, the president made the kind of dismissal he gives whenever federal agencies draw a conclusion he doesn’t like, be it Russian interference in the 2016 election or the Saudi crown prince’s culpability in the murder of a journalist. “I don’t believe it,” Trump said.
By rejecting the reality of climate change, the president is putting all of America – all the world, really – in unnecessary danger. The same goes for other leading Republicans who maintain that taking steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions – with, say, a carbon tax – will harm our economy (Read: fossil-fuel industries).
If that’s our government’s unshakable position, we’re in trouble. The federal report makes clear that there will be huge economic costs to pay by not trying to halt the accelerating rise of global temperatures.
In the worst-case scenario, the report states, heat-related deaths could cost an average $141 billion per year by the year 2090. Coastal property damage: $118 billion. Inland flooding: $8 billion. Water quality: $5 billion. Damage to coastal reefs: $4 billion. That’s a partial list of the annual cost of doing nothing.
Only a few weeks ago, the United Nations’ science body reported that we have just 12 years to make massive and unprecedented changes if we are to keep global warming to moderate levels. That report painted a brutal picture of famine, economic tolls and refugee crises if world average temperatures climb 2 degrees Celsius (3.7 degrees Fahrenheit).
When Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate Accords — the best hope yet of curbing the 2-degree rise — other nations stepped up with their commitments. So did California and some other states.
Now it’s time for Florida to do the same. DeSantis has an historic chance to be the first leader of the Sunshine State to take a realistic view of the threats before us – if he chooses to seize it.
For all our sake, we hope he does.
Florida, the state most imperiled by rising seas, can do plenty. First, by helping communities build sea walls, raise roads, improve flood drainage and protect drinking-water supplies. Then, by encouraging alternate energy usage and creating incentives for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. He could band with other coastal states to press for federal action.
We know that if Andrew Gillum had been elected, he would be bound by promises to act on climate change. The Democrat lost by a fraction of a percentage point, indicating that lots of Floridians want their government to quit ignoring sea-level rise and its causes.
Since his election, DeSantis has said he wants to be his own man. Here is a great way to act on it.
“The Invading Sea” is a collaboration of four South Florida media organizations — the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald, Palm Beach Post and WLRN Public Media.