Next week, all eyes will be on Miami as 20 Democratic candidates take the stage for the party’s first presidential debates. I’m glad the candidates are coming to Florida. We are a swing state and I’m looking forward to knocking on doors next year to talk to voters about our nominee and his or her platform.
But I’m also glad they’ll be here because it means they’re more likely to address the climate crisis. It would be shocking if they didn’t.
The debate will be held just a few blocks from Biscayne Bay, in the Arsht Center. It’s one of many places in downtown Miami that already has experienced flooding from extreme rainfall and sea-level rise. In fact, the center was evacuated due to flash flooding in 2012 during a performance of The Lion King.
Hopefully the candidates won’t have to bring their waders to get to the stage.
The reality here in Florida is that the climate crisis is no longer a someday, maybe issue – it’s already here and costing us money. The cost of flood insurance is rising and investors are worried about coastal property values crashing.
Last month, an economist with the Union of Concerned Scientists told our House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis that 64,000 Florida homes are already at risk of chronic flooding within the lifetime of a 30-year mortgage.
As seas rise, that number could climb to more than 1 million homes, with Miami, the Keys and my home area of Tampa-St. Petersburg the most at risk. That’s one out of every 10 houses in Florida today. And nationally, we’re looking at $1 trillion worth of coastal property facing chronic flooding.
So, when people ask the candidates “How can we afford to address the climate crisis?” my first response is, “How can we afford not to?”
When the monster storm surge from Hurricane Irma threatened Tampa, my family boarded up our windows and moved our most precious possessions to the top of a parking garage. We were lucky. The hurricane missed Tampa Bay. But people in other parts of Florida, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and others weren’t so lucky.
The cost of disasters keeps rising and the warming climate is making many of them worse, whether it’s storm surge on our coasts, flooding in the Midwest or wildfires in California. And we are all mindful of our neighbors in the Florida Panhandle.
We’ve passed disaster relief in Congress, but we need to do more than triage. Our state’s coastline makes this a special, beautiful place to live and work. But the climate crisis could make it a soggy, expensive and difficult place to live in the decades ahead.
We need to cut the carbon pollution that’s causing it in the first place so we can avoid the worst-case scenarios for rising seas. Thankfully, we’ve made major progress. Wind energy has quadrupled in the past 10 years. Utility-scale solar is 30 times bigger than it used to be. Now there are more than 350,000 jobs in these industries and millions more in energy efficiency.
I’d love to see our state do more so we can benefit from clean energy. The same investor-owned utilities that provide power in Florida are making major strides in other states, but Republicans in Tallahassee haven’t done enough to require these utilities to meet clean energy goals. As a result, Florida has lost its lead on solar to states like Massachusetts and New Jersey, which have less sunshine but greater vision.
In Congress, clean energy leaders have asked us to end Trump’s tariffs on Chinese solar panels and wind turbine components. And they want us to debate longer-term policies like investment tax credits, a federal clean energy standard and training programs to support quality, family sustaining jobs in new industries.
And we need to think even bigger. Ten years ago, the House passed a national climate bill. But the Senate never held a vote on it. We can’t lose another 10 years. But Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump are committed to protect the oil and coal industries. So, solving the climate crisis means taking back the Senate and defeating Trump.
I’m not planning on endorsing anyone in the presidential primary – not yet anyway – but I know that whoever wins our party’s nomination will need a serious plan to combat the climate crisis.
I’m committed to making sure we do our job in the House. We need the next president to acknowledge that a warming planet threatens all of us and we need to work together to cope with the consequences.
Rep. Kathy Castor represents Florida’s 14th District in Congress and chairs the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.
“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.