There was a time, in the not-so-distant past, when intelligent, educated people could debate the progression and consequences of global climate change. When they could argue that rising sea levels were just a cyclical phenomenon that posed no threat to humans, and no barrier to those who wanted to develop in flood plains and ever- closer to the ocean.
[READ MORE: Are Volusia beaches narrower than in the past?]
Particularly for Floridians, those days are behind us now. The focus has shifted, and the questions are now a matter of degree:
- Which properties are likely to be affected by sea-level rise?
- Which inland and coastal properties face an increased risk of flooding, and how quickly will that threat accelerate?
- How much taxpayer money should governments pour into efforts to protect structures along Florida’s coast, and when and how should the government discourage further building in the areas projected to be most vulnerable?
Many of these questions have answers that state and national officials don’t want to hear. One recent example: A study released in June suggests that within the next 20 years Florida will face a $76 billion cost just to protect existing structures against encroaching waters.
And last Sunday, The News-Journal’s Abigail Brashear’s story about Volusia County’s vanishing beach contrasted some historic photos (with rows of cars parked on a particularly wide stretch of beach) and modern shots of the same stretch of beach, significantly narrowed even at low tide.
Fortunately, a dramatic shift in public opinion shows that most Americans understand the urgency of this problem. Across multiple polls, a majority of respondents say they see global warming and sea-level rise as a real threat. They see a link between human activity and increased threats to coastal areas, and they are increasingly likely to elevate those threats over the need to boost the nation’s economic growth.
These polls are important — not because global climate science is subject to a popular vote, but to demonstrate that there’s significant public support for those officials who are willing to take on the challenges now, while there’s still time to find the best, most workable responses to rising sea levels and a shifting climate.
That public support will become even stronger if the nation’s politicians resolve to elevate this issue above the partisan fray. Gov. Ron DeSantis clearly understands that.
Unlike his predecessor Rick Scott, whose administration infamously purged references to global warming or sea-level rise, DeSantis has been a strong (if not always consistent) champion of sustainability and preparation for the environmental challenges ahead.
But DeSantis’ level-headed approach to the threat of rising seas will still need support from the state Legislature before he can make any headway.
The same holds true for Congress. It’s important that these leaders hear from their communities that the threats of sea-level rise are commonly understood, and that the call to action is broadly supported.
That’s why The News-Journal, along with several other Florida papers now united under the Gannett flag, are proud to join an editorial alliance that includes the Palm Beach Post, the South Florida Sun Sentinel and the Miami Herald, with reporting support from WLRN, the South Florida NPR affiliate. The Invading Seas project is meant to “raise awareness, amplify the voice” of our region and create a call to action that can’t be ignored.”
During the project’s tenure, we’ll bring you shared commentary from some of the leading minds on climate change, along with editorials shared among the participating papers.
We’d like to hear from you as well. We’ll be sharing our readers’ opinions — from all viewpoints — with the other newspapers in the alliance.
This discussion must happen now; Florida, as one of the most vulnerable states in the nation, can’t afford to wait. That’s the message we intend to convey, and one we hope will be stronger as more newspapers join this unprecedented alliance.
“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.