As President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney square off in Boca Raton tonight to debate foreign policy, Floridians would do well to listen closely to their prescriptions for a world-sized challenge.
And that's climate change.
More than perhaps most Americans, Floridians have a greater stake in the national conversation about how to combat the threat posed by carbon pollution. With 1,200 miles of shoreline, agriculturally rich land, endless sun and frequent encounters with severe weather and hurricanes, Florida stands at the center of that debate.
So the two men should answer five questions relevant to Floridians and all of us in their final presidential debate at Lynn University.
Their meeting falls just after coastal Florida experienced a King tide, a twice annual surge that lifts tides to their highest levels. The King tide is natural, but it gives Floridians a sense of what's in store from climate change, which is exacerbated by emissions from vehicles that run on gasoline.
Rising sea levels could increase the frequency and intensity of Florida storms, flooding and transportation disruptions, as well as impacting residential and business insurance rates and its world-renowned beaches.
• What strategies and steps should be taken to deal with rising sea levels or — if you'll excuse the pun — to turn back the tide on climate change?
Florida also is home to 29 U.S. military bases and installations, part of a military complex that is the biggest consumer of fuel in the world; it spends approximately $15 billion in taxpayer dollars on fuel each and every year.
• The U.S. economy is adversely affected by its oil dependence no matter where the oil comes from. That's because the price swings in the international oil market still will control how much we pay and how much of a burden oil costs impose on American businesses and individuals. What concrete steps should we take to reduce our reliance on oil, knowing that price volatility affects us no matter where our supply comes from?
• The military realizes that our continued dependence on oil hurts our national security. As a result, the Navy and the Air Force have set goals of securing 50 percent of their fuel from biofuels that we can make right here in America, including Florida.
Indeed, Florida is a leader in biomass production from sugarcane, citrus and forest residues, and urban wood waste, and research at Florida universities is working on developing next-generation biofuels. What actions should we take to promote biofuels that both clean up the air and curb our need for foreign oil?
• Floridians depend more than many Americans on driving. An analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council shows that of the nation's 50 counties with the highest per capita use of oil, seven of them are in Florida. The Obama administration's new national 54.5 mpg fuel economy standards for 2025 will save American consumers $1.7 trillion, cut our oil imports by one-third and reduce carbon pollution by the equivalent of 85 million cars. What other bold moves are needed to save consumers money and protect the planet?
• Florida can lead the country in another energy transformation that will help the climate. The Sunshine State averages approximately 240 days of sun a year, and according to Enterprise Florida more than 430 companies employ about 16,000 people supplying materials for solar energy systems. Should our government do more to promote job creation and clean energy through additional solar energy development?
As they meet in Boca Raton, let's hope the candidates shine a light on how America can move further away from our dependence on oil and toward a brighter future that includes renewable power, for the good of our national security and the sustainability of our planet.
Frances Beinecke is president of the NRDC Action Fund, an affiliate of the Natural Resources Defense Council.