A new federal report released this week underscores two key points on climate change. First, the impact is being felt now, and the responsibility to act cannot be sloughed off to future generations. Second, rising temperatures have real implications for everything from where and how we live to global security and the safety of the food and water supply. The report should especially motivate coastal states such as Florida to get serious about slowing man-made contributions to the crisis.
The report, the Third National Climate Assessment, is the latest in a series that leaves no doubt on the science behind climate change and the serious risks it poses across the globe. Rising temperatures of up to 2 degrees Fahrenheit over the past century have brought a host of changes: longer and hotter summers, shorter winters, an increase in torrential rains and spikes in the severity of algae blooms, wildfires, heat waves and seasonal allergies.
The report highlighted the changes that warming over the past century has wrought across the country. Glaciers are melting in the North. Heavy rains in the East are threatening urban flood barriers. In the Southwest, water shortages are expected to worsen as severe drought pits the needs of farmers, animals, city dwellers and industry against each other. And across the West, long heat waves are worsening conditions for human and animal life and agriculture.
Coastal states are particularly vulnerable, and the Tampa Bay area is labeled as one of three in Florida especially at risk to rising sea levels. With Florida's major cities and infrastructure at lower elevations, roads, railways, ports and airports, and gas and water facilities are threatened by rising sea levels and the damage that comes with extreme weather. An upcoming report will outline how state and local governments can respond, from hardening defenses against coastal flooding to moving highways, hospitals and other major public facilities further inland.
President Barack Obama was right to use the findings to stress the urgency to act. Though his administration has worked to cut greenhouse gas emissions through higher fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles and new emissions limits on power plants, the federal government still lacks a comprehensive, forward-looking approach that targets both conservation and the production of cleaner energy. A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the administration's authority to curb cross-state air pollution should embolden the White House to propose tough new limits this summer on the emissions from dirty, coal-fired power plants.
State and local governments also should take action now. This should be an issue in the governor's race, because the next governor cannot continue to ignore the impact of climate change. Florida should promote clean-energy alternatives, use building and zoning codes to protect vital infrastructure and ensure that natural habitats are preserved so the state has adequate water resources and flood control. Tampa Bay officials ranging from St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman to Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch have pledged to make addressing climate change a priority, and they should follow through.
Those public officials who continue to deny science and refuse to invest in public policy to respond to climate change should not be allowed to leave it to future generations. This report is a wake-up call and a stark reminder that the impact is being felt now and will only get worse.