Climate scientists ask Florida Gov. Rick Scott for 'solutions summit'

Five of the state's top climate scientists met with Gov. Scott to discuss climate change last month. [AP photo]
Five of the state's top climate scientists met with Gov. Scott to discuss climate change last month. [AP photo]
Published Sept. 17, 2014

TALLAHASSEE — If Florida's climate scientists have proven anything this summer, it is that they are careful listeners.

After Gov. Rick Scott told them last month that he is "focused on solutions," 42 scientists from Florida colleges and universities crafted a letter asking the governor and state policy leaders to convene a "Climate Science & Solutions Summit" to be held this fall to come up with an action plan for Florida.

"As scientists, we would like the opportunity to contribute scientific information to a plan which would address what is at stake for our state,'' the scientists wrote.

The letter, to be released on Thursday and obtained by the Times/Herald, comes a month after five of the state's top climate scientists met with Gov. Scott to discuss climate change.

The scientists asked for the meeting after Scott said that he did not have an opinion on the issue because he was "not a scientist."

The scientists wrote to Scott saying they "were scientists" and would welcome the opportunity to explain to him why Florida is especially vulnerable as rising sea levels are flooding streets in Miami Beach, salt water is encroaching on drinking water supplies, and warming water is damaging the coral reefs.

But just hours before the Aug. 19 meeting in his office, the governor told reporters that instead of talking about the causes of climate change, he wanted to talk about solutions.

The latest letter, signed by scientists that include the co-author of the National Climate Assessment and University of Florida's Climate Institute, thanks the governor for the meeting and then implores him and other state leaders to start working on solutions.

"It is crucial for policymakers to understand that human activity is affecting the composition of the atmosphere which will lead to adverse effects on human economies, health and well being,'' wrote the scientists from UF, Florida A&M, the University of Miami, Florida State University, Florida Atlantic University, the University of South Florida, Eckerd College and Florida International University.

"Once policymakers understand this problem, it follows that we are capable of taking action for both adaptation and to prevent the problem from accelerating and rising the price for the solutions," they wrote.

They cited the federal government's National Climate Assessment which concluded that Florida is "exceptionally vulnerable to sea level rise, extreme heat events, and decreased water availability."

Scott said in 2010 that he had "not been convinced that there's any man-made climate change," but he has since refused to say whether or not he has shifted his position on the issue.

During the meeting in his office, the governor asked the professors to explain their backgrounds, describe the courses they taught, and where students in their academic fields get jobs. But the governor would not comment, question or commit to whether or not he believed the climate warnings deserved his attention, and he showed no sign that his skepticism about human-induced climate change had shifted.

Ben Kirtman, a professor of computational and atmospheric science at the University of Miami, said he and his colleagues concluded after the meeting that "it's time to get the scientists and the policymakers to really have a dialogue about how to use the best available science to inform decisions."

For example, he said, scientists could offer data on what strategies might best help the existing infrastructure survive in the face of rising sea levels and the timeframe needed to implement it.

"It's quite conceivable that Miami Beach might ask when are they going to see a two-foot sea level rise and we could provide the best available science and they can use that for their planning,'' he said.

The scientists note that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's requirement — that Florida lower its carbon emissions by 38 percent by 2030 — will require statewide planning and new standards.

They urged state leaders make decisions on the issue in a "transparent fashion" and offered to "contribute scientific information."

The professors also pointed to a proposal submitted to the Florida Board of Governors by UF's Florida Climate Institute that asks for an $18 million investment into climate change mitigation. The plan includes the development of a multi-university center that would work with businesses and state and local agencies to develop new technology and training programs aimed at reducing the impacts of hurricanes, droughts, floods and rising temperatures.

Contact Mary Ellen Klas at Follow @MaryEllenKlas