Editorial: Florida, nation cannot ignore climate change

Published Nov. 28, 2014

No one needs to be a scientist to grasp the dire implications that a warming Earth poses to everyday life. That's the message from the latest in a yearlong series of reports from the world's leading science body, which finds that climate change is "clear and growing" and an immediate risk to people and ecosystems. The report should be wakeup call to industrial nations and coastal states such as Florida to start seriously addressing climate change before the impacts pose even greater threats to security, population centers and the food and water supply.

The report released last month by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an agency formed by the United Nations that brings 195-member states together with the world's leading scientists, found that manmade emissions of greenhouse gases were the highest in history, that warming is unequivocally happening and that the changes since the 1950s have been the greatest in thousands of years. Each of the last three decades was successively hotter than any preceding decade since 1850. And the last 30-year period was the warmest in the Northern Hemisphere in 1,400 years. The issue is not whether the climate is warming but what the world will do to curb the "irreversible" impacts to human life.

The industrialized states need to lead by cutting their reliance on fossil fuels, investing in the clean energy sector and becoming more serious about conservation and more efficient urban design. The developing world will not curb its growth by holding back on fossil fuels if the richer nations don't set an example that clean energy can propel the economy. This report lays a foundation for the international community to agree on action at the next U.N. climate conference this month in Peru.

The midterm elections were a setback, as Republicans skeptical about climate change increased their hold on Congress and as Gov. Rick Scott won re-election. President Barack Obama should continue to press clean energy initiatives that can keep moving the nation away from dirtier fuels. Scott, who has said he is not convinced of man-made climate change and met with climate scientists only late in his re-election campaign, needs to address the reality that more extreme weather, rising sea levels, heat waves and drought poses to this coastal state.

The panel's report frames the risks of climate change in the most compelling language the global panel has ever used. It shuts down the nonsense that global warming is a theory and a problem for some future generation to confront. And it raises the urgency of the conversation by framing the risks of climate change in terms of national security. Rising sea levels, drought, and the impacts that extreme weather will bring to farmland and fisheries will threaten the world's food and water supply — creating more instability in the most volatile parts of the world. The United States and the world have a responsibility to those future generations to address climate change before the costs only continue to grow.