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Florida scientists press Gov. Rick Scott on climate change

TALLAHASSEE — In an effort to push Gov. Rick Scott into the debate on climate change, 10 prominent Florida scientists on Tuesday asked for an opportunity to explain to him the impact human-induced global warming will have on Florida.

"We note you have been asked several times about how, as governor, you will handle the issue of climate change," the scientists wrote in a two-page letter to Scott. "You responded that you are 'not a scientist.' We are scientists and we would like the opportunity to explain what is at stake for our state."

Scott initially denied the impact of human-induced global warming when he first ran for office in 2010, saying he has "not been convinced that there's any man-made climate change." He has since been reluctant to engage on the issue, answering only, "I'm not a scientist," when asked about it.

The scientists, professors at the University of Miami, Florida State, Florida International and Eckerd College, believe they can explain simply why they believe the governor should care.

"Florida is one of the most vulnerable places in the country with respect to climate change, with southeastern Florida of particular concern," the scientists wrote. "This is not a hypothetical. Thousands of scientists have studied the issue from a variety of angles and disciplines over many decades.

"Those of us signing this letter have spent hundreds of years combined studying this problem, not from any partisan political perspective, but as scientists — seekers of evidence and explanations."

The issue is likely to gain steam in the months ahead as the governor's race pits Scott against former Gov. Charlie Crist, who while governor initiated the most aggressive climate-change policies in Florida's history.

Under pressure from global-warming naysayers, including the conservative Americans for Prosperity and the utility industry, Florida lawmakers have since repealed or defunded most of Crist's initiatives.

Americans for Prosperity Florida director Chris Hudson said his organization has more than $3 million to spend on statewide education efforts this election cycle and he expects climate change to be an issue this election as well as in 2016.

To push back against that effort, and to keep climate change at the forefront of the debate, a federal super PAC called NextGenClimate has targeted Scott and has identified Florida as one of the seven states it will be pouring money into this election year.

The organization's strategy includes mobilizing and targeting Hispanic voters in South Florida and the Interstate 4 corridor with information about salt-water intrusion and rising flood insurance costs in coastal communities.

Meanwhile, Scott and his environmental officials face new deadlines under President Barack Obama's Climate Action Plan. Under the plan, the Environmental Protection Agency has required that states reduce greenhouse gas emissions from future and existing power plants by specific levels by 2030.

Under those rules, Florida must prepare a plan within a year to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by about 38 percent by 2030.

The EPA says Florida has the 13th lowest historical fossil fuel emissions of any state. But the EPA gives the advantage to other states when calculating the 2030 standard because Florida doesn't have a robust plan to increase renewable energy and displace coal-fired fuel generation.

A study by the environmental consulting firm the Brattle Group calculated that the EPA rule will require Florida to reduce its carbon dioxide levels by more than 40 million tons, or about 38 percent, at a cost of about $1.3 billion.

By comparison, states with more aggressive emissions reduction goals — such as California — will see no net increase in their carbon reduction costs.

Jeff Chanton, a professor of oceanography at Florida State University, hand-delivered the letter to Scott's Capitol office.

"This is not a 'save the earth' message," he said. "This is about the continued comfort and amiability of civilization, or human beings."

"I just want him to understand what the situation is — and put it in a historical, million-year context, about what the greenhouse gas history is," Chanton said.

He explained that ice core records offer a multimillion-year history of the Earth's CO2 levels. During the Ice Age, temperatures went through vast extremes but the CO2 levels didn't vary more than 100 parts per million — between 180 ppm to 280 ppm.

"When the CO2 levels rose, the temperatures rose" and water that was stored as ice melted to raise the level of the oceans, he said. "Today, CO2 levels are up to 400 — might we be concerned about the temperature changes?

"It's not rocket science," Chanton said. "I can explain it. Give me half an hour."

The letter was also signed by: Andrew Bakun and Kenny Broad, professors of marine ecosystems and society at the University of Miami; David Hastings, professor of marine science and chemistry at Eckerd College; Ben Kirtman, professor of physical sciences and engineering at the University of Miami; Thomas J. Morgan, assistant in medicine, College of Medicine, Florida State University; John Parker, professor of environmental science and chemistry at Florida International University; Brian Soden, professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Miami; John Van Leer, professor of ocean sciences at the University of Miami, and Harold Wanless, professor of geological sciences at the University of Miami.

Contact Mary Ellen Klas at meklas@MiamiHerald.com. Follow @MaryEllenKlas

Correction: David Hastings is a professor of marine science and chemistry at Eckerd College. His name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story.

Gov. Rick Scott speaks at a hurricane readiness news conference in Tampa on Tuesday, the same day scientists delivered to Scott’s Tallahassee office a letter offering to explain climate change.

SKIP O’ROURKE | Times

Gov. Rick Scott speaks at a hurricane readiness news conference in Tampa on Tuesday, the same day scientists delivered to Scott’s Tallahassee office a letter offering to explain climate change.

Here is the text of the scientists' letter to the governor:

Dear Governor Scott:

We respectfully request the opportunity to meet with you to discuss the current and future impact of human-induced global warming on Florida. As scientists, we believe such information is vital given the threat posed by climate change. There is a clear need to develop a state plan to both mitigate and adapt to the threats to Florida's communities, businesses, tourism industry and protect the state's economic well being.

We note you have been asked several times about how, as Governor, you will handle the issue of climate change. You responded that you were "not a scientist." We are scientists and we would like the opportunity to explain what is at stake for our state.

We welcome the chance to present you with the latest climate science. Our hope is this will inform you as you consider Florida's plan for meeting the recently announced carbon pollution standards from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Each state will be called on to implement reductions with Florida's carbon intensity rate reduction target of 38 percent by 2030, from 2012 levels.

We will also respond to any questions you might have regarding the recent National Climate Assessment (NCA) and any adaptation planning decisions you may be considering. That report, as you may be aware, concluded that climate change "is already affecting the American people in far-reaching ways." This includes more frequent and/or intense extreme weather events, more acidic oceans, and rising sea levels. The report further found "unambiguous" evidence that human activities — the burning of fossil fuels, the clearing of forests — are the cause. The NCA also found we are "exceptionally vulnerable to sea level rise, extreme heat events, and decreased water availability" caused by climate change, with "residents in some areas such as Miami Beach [already] experiencing seawater flooding their streets."

In short, Florida is one of the most vulnerable places in the country with respect to climate change, with southeastern Florida of particular concern.

This is not a hypothetical. Thousands of scientists have studied the issue from a variety of angles and disciplines over many decades. Those of us signing this letter have spent hundreds of years combined studying this problem, not from any partisan political perspective, but as scientists — seekers of evidence and explanations. As a result, we feel uniquely qualified to assist you in understanding what's already happening in the climate system so you may make the most effective decisions about what must be done to protect the state, including reducing emissions from fossil fuel burning power plants.

It is crucial for policymakers, such as yourself, to have a full understanding of the current and future threats to Florida. Most importantly, you should have a detailed understanding of the specific climate change impacts already affecting Florida to help you formulate the optimal plans for mitigating future impacts, while simultaneously preparing Florida's communities and businesses for the changes already underway, and almost certain to accelerate in coming years.

We look forward to meeting with you, and await your response.

Sincerely,

Andrew Bakun, Professor of Marine Ecosystems and Society, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami

Kenny Broad, Professor and Chair, Department of Marine Ecosystems and Society, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami

Jeff Chanton, Professor, The John Widmer Winchester Professor of Oceanography, Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science, Florida State University

David Hastings, Professor of Marine Science & Chemistry, Galbraith Marine Science Laboratory, Eckerd College

Ben Kirtman, Professor, Division of Meteorology and Physical Oceanography, Rosensteil School for Marine and Atmospheric Science, Program Director, Physical Sciences and Engineering, Center for Computational Science, University of Miami

Thomas J. Morgan Ph.D., Assistant in Medicine, College of Medicine, Florida State University

John Parker, Emeritus Professor of Environmental Science and Chemistry, Florida International University

Brian Soden, Professor, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami

John Van Leer, Associate Professor, Department of Ocean Sciences, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami

Harold Wanless, Chairman and Professor, Department of Geological Sciences, University of Miami

Florida scientists press Gov. Rick Scott on climate change 07/15/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 16, 2014 1:34pm]

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