The street my brother lives on in Miami floods when it’s sunny out.
About 70 miles south, parts of Key Largo were underwater for three months this fall, during unusually high “king tides.”
Midway up Florida’s east coast, NASA is building a 17-foot-high, 3.2-mile-long sand dune to protect its historic launch pads at Kennedy Space Center from the encroaching ocean.
This is Florida on the eve of the 2020s: Sea-level rise is no longer a theoretical threat.
It’s a logistical challenge confronting taxpayers and policymakers. Even once-skeptical state lawmakers are awakening to that reality.
Immediately after he was elected the next speaker of the Florida House, Rep. Chris Sprowls called out his fellow Republicans for dithering on climate action.
“We need to stop being afraid of words like ‘climate change’ and ‘sea-level rise.’ Frankly, we do this too often as conservatives,” the Palm Harbor Republican said during an address to House colleagues after his election to the post in September.
“We live in a peninsula. We cannot afford to put our head in the sand and hope that the beach doesn’t disappear against a permanent rising tide,” continued Sprowls. “We shouldn’t be afraid of facts.”
Now, that’s enough celebrating. We’ve got about a decade of lot of lost time to make up for in Florida.
Recognizing that, six of our USA TODAY Network newsrooms in Florida are joining forces with The Invading Sea, a 2-year-old collaboration of opinion journalists that spotlights the threat of climate change and engages residents and leaders on solutions.
The Invading Sea was launched by the editorial boards of the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post, along with WLRN Public Media. Originally, the focus was on South Florida because that’s where the threat was most imminent.
Now, as awareness grows about the impacts of sea level rise across Florida, the group is casting a wider net. Opinion teams from 17 news outlets are now participating, including our six: FLORIDA TODAY; Naples Daily News; The News-Press (Fort Myers); Pensacola News Journal, Tallahassee Democrat, and Treasure Coast Newspapers/TCPalm.
“We thought we could have a bigger impact,” said Rosemary O’Hara, editorial page editor at the Sun Sentinel. “Part of this is we want to create informed voices … and do it in a way that our elected leaders cannot ignore.”
Now, candidates seeking endorsements from the Sun Sentinel’s editorial board know they will be asked about climate policies, O’Hara said. The Invading Sea intends to keep a close eye on candidates’ platforms in 2020, and to illuminate them to voters.
“If we’re all focused on this, maybe Washington will pay attention,” O’Hara said. “… We feel like we’ve gotten Tallahassee’s attention.”
As a result of this new partnership, our readers can expect to see more columns, editorials and cartoons tackling the issue of climate change. Our editorial cartoonist Andy Marlette offered our first contribution to The Invading Sea alliance this week.
We hope the increased coverage will inform policymakers and citizens as Florida faces decisions of immense consequence for the future of our state.
So far, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ attitude about climate change is encouraging. In August, he appointed the state’s first chief resilience officer, Julia Nesheiwat. Her job is to prepare Florida for the environmental, physical and economic impacts of sea-level rise.
When Nesheiwat’s role was announced, Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein has described Florida as “ground zero for sea-level rise.”
That’s a dramatic departure from the tenure of former Gov. Rick Scott, who banned DEP employees from using the term climate change, according to former employees and public records.
DeSantis, 41, is of a different generation. That might be part of it.
And Sprowls, who will take his seat as House Speaker after the 2020 elections, is a mMillennial. His openness on climate change reflects a generational divide among Republicans.
Fifty-two percent of younger Republicans — those in the mMillennial generation and Generation Z, ages 18 to 38 in 2019 — think the government is doing too little on climate, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
By comparison, 41% of Generation X and 31% of Baby Boomers and older Americans feel that way.
What government action is appropriate? What will be adequate to preserve our coastal communities?
With the federal government withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement and backtracking on clean-energy policies, there is intense pressure on coastal states such as Florida.
We’re honored to join The Invading Sea alliance at this pivotal time for Florida.
Eve Samples is opinion and engagement editor for the USA TODAY Network in Florida. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or @EveSamples on Twitter.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.