By Dawn Shirreffs, Environmental Defense Fund
Across America, families like mine are hunkered down, scared and in search of ways to support those hit hardest by this pandemic. In addition to the thousands in our state who are struggling with the virus itself, 1.4 million Floridians have been plunged into hardship because the tourism industry has evaporated.
Small business owners face wrenching decisions about their futures. We can’t know how long the suffering will last or the ultimate toll that this pandemic will take on our health, the economy and society. But, one thing is clear: if we don’t use the lessons of this pandemic to make positive change for our people and our communities, it will be costly.
As my community dutifully shuts down, I’ve watched neighbors and small businesses band together to find solutions. I know we can emerge stronger.
Once we enter the recovery phase, building a cleaner, healthier Florida should be among our highest priorities. Covid-19 has shown us what it means to close a tourism economy. We cannot completely mitigate against another outbreak, but we can take steps to safeguard our economy even after the virus is defeated.
As a start, we must invest in infrastructure that protects Florida’s tourism-based economy from the effects of extreme weather, sea-level rise, rising temperatures, and other damage caused by the changing climate.
Water quality issues along our 663 miles of beaches are too numerous to count. Lakes are already threatened by more intense algae blooms and fish kills in warmer weather. Rising tides are compromising our aging sewers and septic systems and sending more pollution into our lakes, rivers and coastal waters.
Response to sea-level rise and flooding in Florida may cost $76 billion by 2035. These impacts don’t just deter tourists — who generate $86 billion in spending — they also reduce the home values within miles of our waters. All of these threats are accelerating as a result of a changing climate.
In order to avert more severe damage, clean energy must also be part of the path forward. Powering our homes and businesses with renewable energy will reduce pollution, keep electricity affordable, protect our health, and create good jobs. Deploying strong electric vehicle infrastructure will cut air pollution, facilitate disaster evacuations and ensure that Florida is prepared to lead as electric vehicle technology advances.
Florida already enjoys a robust clean energy jobs market, with over 12,000 solar jobs. A recent report from the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy anticipates as many as 135,000 new high-paying, sustainable clean energy jobs across Florida, including in rural, underserved and diverse communities. Our state has the need and the opportunity to rapidly transition to a clean and thriving 21st century economy.
Now is the time to begin with that transition. But we can only achieve a cleaner, healthier Florida by electing officials committed to 100% clean energy by 2050 and investing in climate-resilient water infrastructure. Working and advocating together, we can emerge on the other side of this crisis a stronger, healthier Florida.
Dawn Shirreffs is the Florida Director for Environmental Defense Fund based in Miami, Florida.
“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.