By Bob Inglis, former U.S. congressman
Florida is proof that attitudes have changed among conservatives on climate change. Republicans and Democrats alike notice more active hurricane seasons, the sunny day flooding, the more intense rain events, and the conditions that are ripe for algae blooms.
Those blooms caused incalculable damage to coastal ecosystems and Florida’s tourism-driven economy, which prompted some of Florida’s Republican leaders to talk seriously about climate change. These lawmakers are responding to the facts on the ground, which are overtaking the state. They accept that the problem of climate change— just like the problem of COVID-19 — can’t be willed away, but a way can be willed to solve it.
Former Florida GOP Congressman Carlos Curbelo has the will. He saw the rising seas and storms that routinely flood his district, and he led. His carbon pricing bill was the first introduced by a Republican since my own bill in 2009. Sadly, the bill did not advance in a U.S. House of Representatives that instead prioritized meaningless votes on an anti-carbon tax resolution.
Florida GOP Congressman Francis Rooney stepped forward to lead after Hurricane Irma blazed through his district. Rooney saw how the Florida Coral Reef Tract and the Everglades ecosystems spared Collier County by weakening the storm before it impacted the developed area.
An avid outdoorsman, his familiarity with vulnerable ecosystems coupled with his business acumen led him to champion several pieces of climate legislation that rely on free market solutions to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Florida’s governor and state lawmakers are also rising to the climate challenge.
Following his victory in 2018, Gov. Ron DeSantis embraced climate science by appointing the state’s first chief science officer and first chief resilience officer. He also appointed a task force that recognized the roles that climate change plays in sustaining and intensifying harmful algal blooms. At his urgings, the Florida Legislature passed foundational water bills and record funding that strive for climate-resilient ecosystems and water infrastructure.
DeSantis has been rewarded for those efforts by positive approval ratings for his environmental leadership. And he seems determined to take more meaningful action on climate change.
Recently, he announced the addition of 74 electric vehicle charging stations along highways — a major step toward preparing vital transportation infrastructure for an emissions-free future. He saved taxpayers $8.6 million by paying for the stations with fines from the Volkswagen Clean Air Act settlement. He says that more of those funds will be used for additional charging stations.
And he has done all this in the face of the global COVID-19 pandemic, which is hitting Florida hard. But as the governor knows, climate change isn’t going to wait for the novel coronavirus to go away. He needs to keep his foot on the pedal, focused on actionable items that will not only benefit the Sunshine State, but serve as an example across the U.S.
Free market solutions to climate change are embedded in conservative principles and supported by right-of-center economists. You don’t need to grow the government or rely on red tape riddled regulations to solve the climate crisis. But you do need conservative leadership, like that of DeSantis. Conservatives need to return home to our economic and environmental roots and commit to rebuilding this country on a clean energy economy or else more lives, ecosystems and property will be lost, while the economy fails to rebound.
Conservatives are finally getting in the climate game. Especially in the face of so many other challenges, we cannot give up now.
Former U.S. Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC4 1993-1999; 2005-2011) directs republicEn.org, a community of conservatives advancing free enterprise solutions to climate change.
“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.