By Tania Galloni, Earthjustice
It’s about time: the head of America’s disaster response department, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is publicly acknowledging that climate change is linked to intensifying hurricanes.
“You can look back at the history of hurricanes over the last 75 years or more — more frequent, more costly, more damage. So, the climate has changed,” FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor said during July 24 Congressional testimony.
It is scientific fact, yet some of our leaders in Washington and Florida keep playing politics instead of doing what taxpayers need – prepare our communities for storms and flooding that come from a warmer Earth. We need to hold them accountable.
- Last summer, Gov. Ron DeSantis made a big show of hiring Julia Nesheiwat as “Chief Resilience Officer” to coordinate Florida’s climate change response. She left the job six months later to be a homeland security adviser in the Trump administration.
During her brief tenure, Nesheiwat traveled Florida talking to people involved in preparing for climate change. She found the state lacked coordination, and she produced a report that wasn’t released until after she was gone. (It wasn’t made public until The Tampa Bay Times asked for it under the state’s open records law. The DeSantis administration took four months to turn it over.)
“Florida needs a statewide strategy,” her report said. “Communities are overwhelmed and need one place to turn for guidance.”
Among other things, her report talked about the need for affordable housing for “climate refugees” uprooted by storms, fires, and floods – like Floridians in flooded neighborhoods and the 20,000 Puerto Ricans who fled here after Hurricane Maria. Notably, the report doesn’t mention the causes of climate change, or steps Florida could take to cut greenhouse gasses.
When Nesheiwat left, DeSantis didn’t replace her. Instead, he said the Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection would do that job on top of his other responsibilities. We haven’t heard much about it since.
- On the federal level, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ initial proposal to solve Miami’s sea-level rise problem is a $4.6 billion plan that calls for six miles of walls (6 to 13 feet high) along the coast – including inside Biscayne Bay – a questionable approach that could wreck neighborhoods and favor wealthier residents.
- Disaster preparedness agency FEMA is conspicuously avoiding mentioning climate change at all. The agency’s latest “National Preparedness Report” – a summary of the nation’s vulnerabilities – says nothing about climate change, Climatewire reports.
Some federal lawmakers are trying to mandate common sense. Their “FEMA Climate Change Preparedness Act” says, plainly, that it’s detrimental to FEMA’s mission to “deny or ignore the existence of climate change or the implications of such on national security and national emergency management.”
“Detrimental” is one word for it. Another word is “irresponsible.” When it comes to places that have much to lose from rising seas, hurricane-prone Florida ranks near the top. We can meet this challenge. It’s unconscionable – and yes, irresponsible – that so many of our elected officials are choosing to ignore it instead.
Tania Galloni, of Miami, is the Managing Attorney for the Florida office of Earthjustice, a national nonprofit environmental law firm.
“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.