By Philip Stoddard, Florida International University
This year made Floridians feel climate change in our daily lives as we slogged through a supercharged hurricane season, extreme rainfall, and heat, in the midst of a pandemic.
Our woes joined those of others around the world: massive wildfires in the West, melting permafrost in the North, and drought in the rainforests. Across the country, we watched in horror as minority families, exposed to legacy pollution and environmental injustices for decades, now bore the worst of the COVID-19 deaths.
Here in hurricane alley, Florida was lucky this year, but 31 named storms wreaked billions in damages, leaving coastal Louisiana in ruins and already-impoverished Honduras in desperate condition. Huge storms fueled by a warm ocean intensified frighteningly fast as they came ashore. Next year it could be us.
The warm seas also brought a record-setting rainy season. Florida’s coastal communities mopped up after 30 inches of rain in a single month, on top of the now-familiar king tide flooding, which is also increasing. Residents were warned NOT to pump their failing septic tanks, out of concern the high water table would float them out of the ground.
The climate crisis is costlier for Florida than any other state in the country, and the threat to our economy is grave. By 2050, sea-level rise threatens to decrease the state’s property value by 35 percent. Our beaches are at risk, as is our tourist-based economy. Covid-19 has given us a preview of what a tourist-free economy might look like.
How, one wonders, do we reconcile these estimates with the absurd statements of our own Sen. Marco Rubio, who, citing no evidence, contradicts 3589 of the nation’s top economists by insisting a carbon fee “…would set our state back, depriving us of the resources we desperately need to continue to adapt.”
American economists are nearly unanimous in their assessment that a carbon fee and dividend, returned to the people, is THE most effective way to reduce CO2 emission and save the planet. Over 130 municipalities and counties from Florida to Alaska have already endorsed a carbon fee. Canada has already enacted carbon taxes.
This obstruction is the opposite of what Florida voters are demanding from their elected leaders. Florida voters overwhelmingly support bold climate action legislation.
We have passed climate ballot initiatives in favor of a 100 million bond to protect Key Biscayne from rising waters and a referendum in Manatee County to protect water sources and natural spaces. Miami-Dade County elected a water-warrior as mayor.
Floridians demand all levels of government to engage reality, embrace science, and halt the destruction of our climate. We must protect ourselves, our families, our kids, and our communities from the scorching heat, flooding, and the multiple crises that follow in public health, housing, economy, and social well-being.
Clean energy champions in Florida once again have an ally in President-elect Biden. His approach to rebuilding the country’s economy, public health systems, and infrastructure largely centers on creating a clean energy economy. If implemented, experts estimate that Biden’s climate plan could bring up to 1.5 million well-paying, clean energy jobs to Florida, an economic boom that benefits working people, not just the already-wealthy.
When I was mayor of South Miami, the city commission pledged to transition to 100% renewable energy by 2040. Orlando and Tallahassee plan to be there by 2050. With a mix of federal and private backing, these communities will provide the state with roadmaps on how to build a future for Florida that we can live in. It can be cleaner, fairer, and more prosperous than what we have now.
With 2020 as a poster year for the fires and floods of climate disaster, let us make 2021 the year we turn the corner. Take heart: the big dinosaurs went extinct, but the nimble, flying ones survived as the birds we know today.
Philip Stoddard is the former Mayor of South Miami 2010-2020 and Professor of Biological Sciences, Institute of Environment, FIU.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state.