At his campaign launch this month, President Trump boasted to supporters that he had saved them from Hillary Clinton and would save them from illegal immigrants. He said nothing about saving the state from climate change.
Yet five months ago the Brookings Institution issued just the latest credible study naming Florida among the states most at risk from climate change. Failure to reverse the effects of global warming would hurt the economies of South Florida, Tampa Bay and Orlando, where Trump spoke. Those economies basically drive the state.
Trump has announced that he would end Obama-era restrictions on coal plant emissions. He wanted them “boom, gone.” With that action, Trump again showed that he cares more about a coal-producing state like Pennsylvania — and it’s far from the biggest — than he does about Florida. He cares more about protecting dirty, coal-fired power plants than about protecting Florida.
Yet Trump, despite his claims, has not revived a dying industry. The government predicts that domestic coal consumption will decrease this year by 13 percent after hitting a 39-year low last year. Coal exports will drop by 15 percent.
That’s because, like Florida Power & Light, more utilities will keep switching to cleaner natural gas. Renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, will continue to get cheaper.
Since Trump shows no sign of wanting to expand his electorate, he focuses on polls that regularly have shown Democratic voters much more concerned about climate change. Sentiment, however, is shifting.
In the last few months, Republican senators have proposed energy policies to reduce the emissions that cause global warming. Newer polls show that younger voters in both parties worry about the issue. “Denying the basic existence of climate change,” GOP pollster Whit Ayres told The New York Times, “is no longer a credible position.”
Like Rick Scott, when he was governor, Trump doesn’t share that view. Politico reported last week that the Agriculture Department under Trump has failed to publicize studies from its well-regarded researchers showing the impact of climate change on crops. One such study warned that climate change could reduce the nutritional value of rice, which comprises more than half the diet for 600 million people in Asia.
It would be in Republicans’ interest to demand policies that address climate change. Studies show that most of the states facing the greatest potential harm voted for Trump. In Florida and other Southeastern states, global warming could decimate crops.
Midwestern farm states also are Trump country. Because of what one meteorologist called “unprecedented” spring flooding, some farmers couldn’t plant a crop. Again, climate change explains part of the misery.
Scientists note that warmer water in the Gulf of Mexico put more moisture in the air. Ice is melting at terrifying speed in the Arctic, which had an abnormally warm spring. That phenomenon pushed cold air into the Midwest to meet the moist air. Deluges followed.
Similarly, climate change turned Hurricane Harvey into a rain machine over Houston in 2017. It did the same with Hurricane Florence over the Carolinas last year. A recent report in the journal Nature said climate change could disrupt the wind shear barrier that helps to protect Florida’s Atlantic coast from hurricanes.
Trump’s response? Most recently, the Trump administration refused to sign a document related to protecting the Arctic unless it contained no reference to climate change. Worse, he has ordered all government reports on climate change to make no projections beyond 2040. Without policy changes, the most catastrophic effects would show themselves in 2050.
Governments such as Miami Beach that shun willful ignorance are preparing. Delray Beach commissioned a study showing that the city must spend nearly $400 million to defend itself against rising seas. This month, the South Florida Water Management District board heard that the agency will need to spend as much as $70 million a year to protect water wells in southern Florida from saltwater intrusion and to protect against flooding.
The Democrats who want to oppose Trump must show they care about Florida and the growing threat from a warming climate.
Randy Schultz’s email address is email@example.com
“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.