If Gov. Rick Scott wants to see Florida's future as the planet warms and sea levels rise, he should take a drive on State Road A1A along the Fort Lauderdale strip where street flooding from the Atlantic Ocean occurred off and on for weeks last year. The flooding was blamed on a confluence of high winds, a low-pressure system, Superstorm Sandy and the moon's pull. And while it's impossible to say if global warming is the cause, it is certainly true that the oceans are higher because of a warming climate, meaning more coastal flooding. The governor and the Legislature should finally acknowledge that the scientific community is right and climate change is real.
Sandy was a wake-up call for New York City and much of the Eastern Seaboard. The devastation prompted Michael Bloomberg, the independent mayor of New York City and a former Republican, to publicly endorse President Barack Obama's re-election bid. He said that climate change should be a bipartisan concern and that Republican challenger Mitt Romney had abandoned his onetime interest in the issue.
Scott should join in Bloomberg's pragmatism. Scientific studies continue to pile up evidence that we are contributing to a warming planet by polluting the air with heat-trapping gases. Sea levels have risen 8 to 10 inches in the past 100 years, and that rise is accelerating. With 2.5 million Floridians living along threatened coastline, Scott should show some of the postelection flexibility he has demonstrated on health care and embrace the science of climate change, even if it challenges Republican Party orthodoxy.
One recent study published in the journal Nature Climate Change found that by continuing on our current path of greenhouse gas pollution, the seas will rise 5 feet by the first half of the next century. That would wipe out coastal areas of Florida, submerging 94 percent of Miami Beach and 20 percent of Miami. But the study also suggests that even if we immediately and significantly cut fossil fuel pollution, the best we could do is slow the seas' rise.
That means preparation has to proceed along dual tracks. First the nation has to commit to demonstrable goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions domestically and internationally. The first international climate change agreement, the 1997 Kyoto protocol, was one the United States signed but never ratified. Second, federal, state and local planners should prepare for rising seas by building them into designs for infrastructure as well as into zoning plans.
Scott could be at the forefront of this planning process and join with Bloomberg to depoliticize the issue and adopt a long-term strategy for Florida. All he has to do is take a ride along the coast and see what is at stake for the future of the state.