Florida is the epicenter of presidential politics. It’s also ground zero for climate change and the impacts of rising sea levels and increasingly destructive storms. With Miami hosting the first Democratic debates of the 2020 race this week, those worlds are colliding.
And the climate crisis is rightfully set to take center stage, providing a chance for candidates to roll out meaningful solutions to meet this existential challenge.
Voters are eager to hear our candidates’ plans to act on climate. A recent poll by CNN found that climate change topped the list of issues Democrats want to see candidates tackle in 2020. And famed Republican pollster Frank Luntz has found that 4 out of 5 voters across party lines want Congress to forge a bipartisan solution.
One approach to helping achieve that is the bipartisan Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act – which I am proud to co-sponsor with my Florida colleagues Ted Deutch and Francis Rooney. Putting a price on carbon pollution – and a check in the pocket of every American from the proceeds – creates a win-win situation, helping create a level playing field for new, innovative clean energy solutions.
For Floridians our environment is our way of life. From our beautiful beaches to the Everglades, our state is packed with ecological treasures that make it such an amazing place to live. Our economy depends on clean air and clean water, to attract visitors and residents alike. So, climate change emerging as a key electoral issue should come as little surprise, especially for those of us who call Florida home.
And taxpayers across our state have already begun bearing the brunt of the financial burden posed by rising sea levels. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, Miami-Dade County spent $600 million this year alone on climate impacts, a fraction of the estimated $22 billion they anticipate spending on resiliency in the next 5 years.
Broward County has put a $2.4 billion price tag on upgrading the city’s wastewater system. The City of Miami Beach has already shelled out $650 million to raise roads and install pumps to combat flooding. The City of Miami voters are taxing themselves $192 million to adapt to rising seas.
Building higher sea walls is a particularly expensive task. A new analysis by the Center for Climate Integrity and Resilient Analytics calculated that Florida will spend over $76 billion just for sea wall construction over the next 20 years. Florida’s entire annual budget is $91 billion. Even if these estimates are off by half, they are astronomical. Putting polluters, not the people, on the hook for those costs would seem appropriate.
The good news is that more people are aware of the threat posed by climate change and want action in the form of clean energy solutions and accountability. It’s up to our 2020 candidates – and the Miami debates are the perfect place to start – to tell voters how they plan to confront it.
U.S. Congressman Charlie Crist represents coastal Pinellas County on the west coast and served as the 44thGovernor of Florida.
“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.