I have spent my career as a scientist watching climate change play out as a train wreck in slow motion. Now, as mayor of South Miami, I see the same effects unfold before my eyes, both in my travels and here in my own city.
Climate change is here, it’s happening now, and it’s hitting home for communities in Florida and throughout the nation. After several years of historic flooding, Florida was slammed by a trio of powerful hurricanes – Florence, Irma, and Michael. Hurricane Michael unexpectedly exploded into a deadly category 4 storm and intensified quicker than expected. This storm severely damaged a U.S. Air Force base on Florida’s Panhandle.
Storms of Michael’s intensity have likely become the norm because of the climate change that has already occurred. We have entered a new world where hurricanes and wildfires do what was unthinkable two decades ago.
Over the last 10 years, flooding events here in Florida have increased in frequency by 400 percent. Just this year, our state experienced the most toxic algal blooms in a decade. Neurotoxins produced by the red tide killed manatees, dolphins, and sea turtles, shut down beaches, cost millions in tourism dollars, and made residents physically ill.
The consequences of inaction on climate change will be devastating across the country. Residents of Miami know that the tides are rising higher than ever before.
On the island of Chincoteague, Virginia where my family has rented the same house at Christmas for 38 years, tides rose and fell under the house twice daily the entire week. It used to be dry. Our kids had the sobering realization that this island could disappear in their lifetimes.
In Washington, big polluters have been handed control of key federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Departments of Transportation, Energy, and Interior. Over the past two years, the Trump administration has allowed industry lobbyists to hijack our government as their gross disregard for clean air, water, and climate systematically destroys this nation’s biodiversity and dooms the whole planet.
Frustrated by the vacuum in Washington, cities across the country, including South Miami, have taken the lead on reversing damage to our climate. Outside Washington, businesses, governors, mayors and other local leaders are driving the transition to clean energy. In 2009, South Miami committed to achieving 100 percent renewable energy.
Two years ago, South Miami made history as the first American city outside California to require solar panels on new construction. We are joining states, cities, and businesses across the country in committing to action on climate; together we represent more than half of the U.S. economy and population.
States are already implementing clean energy policies and investing in energy efficiency. All told, the targets already adopted will cut 500 million metric tons of carbon pollution equivalent per year by 2025 if they are fully implemented.
Local leaders have recognized the responsibility to go beyond writing and talking about climate solutions. We are leading America in implementing solutions to boost our economy while saving the planet.
As a result, clean energy development is benefitting local economies. Florida now has over 150,000 jobs in the clean energy sector. About 790,000 workersnationwide are employed in clean energy industries, with half those working in wind and solar. Thanks to local action, the clean energy economy is booming.
Now, as the new Congress gets underway, leaders in Washington have a new opportunity to lead by partnering with local leaders in the fight against climate change. South Miami has discovered how determined citizens can make a difference. Today, we’re welcoming Congress and other leaders to unite with us in our fight against climate change.
Dr. Philip Stoddard is the Mayor of South Miami and Professor of Biological Sciences at Florida International University.
“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.