A statewide collaborative news reporting partnership that will focus on climate change issues. A new, high-ranking Chief Resilience Officer who will work to “prepare Florida for the environmental, physical and economic impacts of climate change, especially sea-level rise.” A heightened awareness among the electorate that Florida has arguably more to lose from climate inaction than any other state.
What a difference a year makes.
To be sure, a year ago, the existential threat from climate change was real to many of the state’s climate scientists and local government officials. But not real enough to the vast majority of Florida’s 21 million residents — seven million of whom are vulnerable to sea level rise in Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.
Today, however, as the Democratic Party prepares for this week’s presidential candidate debates in Miami. a harsh reality is being pounded into party officials (and many of the candidates themselves): South Florida is practically ground zero for climate change impact. Ignore it at your — and our — peril.
As if to hammer that point home, a March Quinnipiac University poll of Florida voters said about three-quarters either felt “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about climate change issues (like sea-level rise). Sixty-six percent were “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” that climate change will personally affect themselves or a family member.
Wait, there’s more! Last Thursday, barely a week ahead of the Miami debates, the League of Conservation Voters dropped a survey by Public Policy Polling that shows 57 percent of all Florida voters consider environmental and climate issues are “important.”
Of those, 19 percent list environment and climate as the “most important issue.” Another 38 percent list them as “very important” and 22 percent say “somewhat important.”
Wait, there’s more! The PPP poll asked what environmental arguments most moved Florida voters. The survey says presidential candidates may want to school themselves on the impact of red tide and blue-green algae on Florida waters. Also: sea-level rise.
“Once-rare events like ’500-year floods’ are happening regularly and the sea-level will rise, endangering Florida’s coastline. 58% of voters find this a convincing reason to act on climate change, with a plurality (43%) of voters finding it very convincing,” according to the group’s 32-page report based on the June 14-16 survey.
This is all quite gratifying — and admittedly a bit frustrating — for me. When The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board launched The Invading Sea project in May of last year with the editorial boards of the Miami Herald and South Florida Sun Sentinel, as well as WLRN Public Radio, climate change was barely perceptible on Florida’s political radar.
Moreover, whatever discussion there was of the topic was so polarizing (thank you, Gov. Rick Scott) that just uttering the phrases “climate change” or “global warming” could shut down any public policy debate. We were so aware of that, our collaborative intentionally highlighted the “sea level rise” threat so that our already difficult mission to raise awareness among South Florida residents wouldn’t hobble itself at the start by getting mired in politically charged arguments over what’s causing the waters to rise.
We also chose sea-level rise because it wasn’t some far-off consequence that South Floridians had to imagine. It could be touched — right now. The King Tides that roll up to doorsteps on sunny days. The drinking-water wells that are being shut down due to saltwater intrusion. The millions of dollars spent every year to keep our beloved beaches from disappearing.
By now, The Invading Sea has shed any reluctance to address climate-change head on, and we’re still beating the drum. Because the situation is going to get worse. As The Post said in our Sunday editorial: “In the next 15 years, experts expect the ocean to rise another 6 to 12 inches. Unless serious action is taken to curb greenhouse gas emissions, says the Union of Concerned Scientists, roughly 30 percent of Miami Beach and 25 percent of Key Biscayne will be chronically inundated by 2045. That’s the lifespan of a mortgage that a homeowner might be paying off now.”
Not to put too fine a point on it, but no place in the United States is more vulnerable to climate-change induced sea level rise than Florida, where $76 billion would have to be spent in the next 20 years just to build seawalls to standards to protect against routine 2040 storm surges, according to a new report released by the Washington-based Center for Climate Integrity, “High Tide Tax: The Price to Protect Coastal Communities from Rising Seas”.
“We are set to undertake the most dramatic economic and social transformation in human history, and yet no one has bothered to estimate what the core components of climate adaptation will actually cost,” Richard Wiles, executive director of the Center for Climate Integrity, said during a press conference last Wednesday.
Well, now that we have a better idea of that “cost,” the question is: Does the state have the political will to do what’s required?
The answer is, we have to. Because how far we’ve come in the past year is not enough. Not, for example, if Democratic presidential candidates fail to discuss climate change during debates in one of the most vulnerable cities in the country.
Clearly, there is more work to do.
That’s why the newspaper and radio partners in The Invading Sea collaborative, along with the Tampa Bay Times, are launching the new Florida Climate Reporting Network. More than just opinion writing, this is a newspartnership to cover a statewide issue too big and too important for any one news organization to do it justice.
“This is an opportunity to maximize our ability to cover the biggest story of our lives – the threat of climate change,” Julie Anderson, executive editor of the South Florida Sun Sentinel and Orlando Sentinel, said in statement released Tuesday.
The reporting partnership will hopefully grow to involve every newsroom in the state. From Pensacola to St. Augustine to Naples to the Keys.
Because we have more drums to beat.
“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.