A new government report is only the latest official warning of the dire consequences of climate change and the immediate need to act. The stakes for Florida are particularly high, as rising sea levels, extreme heat and more ferocious storms further endanger lives, property and infrastructure in our fast-growing coastal state. While local communities have tried to fill the void, the impacts pose a national security challenge that calls out for state and federal leadership.
The report, mandated by Congress and released by the White House last week, lays out in blunt language the threat that a warming climate poses to public health, the environment and the economy. It warns that rising temperatures will cause more heat-induced fatalities and disease, and that extreme weather will increasingly disrupt agricultural production, leading to declining crop yields. Worsening droughts will further tax already-stressed public drinking water supplies, and lead to more severe wildfires, such as the deadly Camp Fire blaze only recently contained in California, the worst in that state's history. And increased flooding will heighten dangers and increase the misery in disaster areas such as those in the Southeast and in the Florida Panhandle devastated by this year's hurricanes.
The study, produced by more than 300 leading scientists and issued by 13 federal agencies, solidifies the overwhelming global consensus that warming has intensified and that humankind is the cause. It found that U.S. average temperature had increased by between 1.3 and 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit since 1895, with most of this increase having occurred since 1970. It blamed the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation and other man-made activities as the primary cause of global warming of the past 50 years, and estimated that temperatures would rise another 2 to 4 degrees in most areas of the United States over the next few decades. The report also put the most precise figure to date on the cost of warming to the U.S. economy, estimating impacts to life, property and industries that could shave one-tenth from the U.S. economy by 2100 — more than double the loss from the Great Recession.
The report singles out the particular vulnerability of Florida, where rising sea levels put Miami and Tampa among those cities most at risk. In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, health and climate experts in Florida said increased warming would worsen a range of chronic health threats, from heat strokes to mosquito-borne viruses, and that children, the elderly, tourists and those who work outside are especially at risk. One participant, Dr. Ben Kirtman, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Miami, called for Florida to create a climate assessment of its own. That's a great idea.
States and some communities are taking action because there's no leadership on this issue in Washington, D.C., or Florida. The Tampa Bay Regional Resiliency Coalition is one of many bringing together scores of local governments to find ways to cope with climate change. But that's an uphill battle when President Donald Trump dismisses the findings of his own administration's report, and when Florida's outgoing governor, Rick Scott, questions whether climate change exists.
Congress, state legislators and the public should use this latest report as a call for action. The impacts of climate change are accelerating beyond the point where politicians can deny the obvious or play this as a partisan issue. As a practical matter, states and communities need better guidance on how warming will affect a host of decisions, from where growth should occur to how to spend billions on sewers, water systems and other public works. No one's made safer from mocking the science. And no region, the report shows, is immune from the growing danger.