)
Advertisement
  1. Opinion

Editorial: Florida needs action on climate change

Certain neighborhoods like this one in Miami regularly experience flooding during heavy rains and extreme high tides.  National and regional climate change risk assessments have used the flooding to illustrate the Miami area’s vulnerability to rising sea levels.
Certain neighborhoods like this one in Miami regularly experience flooding during heavy rains and extreme high tides. National and regional climate change risk assessments have used the flooding to illustrate the Miami area’s vulnerability to rising sea levels.
Published May 25, 2015

For a state surrounded by water, Florida should be leading the nation in preparing to adapt to climate change. Yet with Gov. Rick Scott a self-proclaimed skeptic of man-made warming, the state is offering virtually no direction to local communities despite the impact already being felt from Miami to St. Augustine. State and local governments should increase their efforts before rising sea levels pose even greater dangers to public safety, property and the drinking water supply.

An Associated Press review of thousands of documents and emails shows the state has yet to offer a clear plan or coordination on addressing rising sea levels, despite chronic flooding along Florida's coastline from storm surges and higher tides. It has yet to address the increasing problem of saltwater intrusion into drinking water wells, which has cities and counties scrambling to find new sources of fresh drinking water. And the AP review blamed this not merely on indifference but on the mindset and culture change that took root after Scott took office. The governor downsized and cut the budgets of the regional water management agencies, and he put sea level rise and planning on the back burner.

This is in keeping with a governor who has shown no appreciation for Florida's fragile ecosystem. It comes years after a state inter-agency report found that sea levels are rising and "likely to rise faster as each decade passes," requiring much of the infrastructure of coastal Florida to be replaced. In Miami, high tides push floodwaters onto Biscayne Boulevard and Ocean Drive. In St. Augustine, as the AP reports, the city's old town floods nearly once a month on average, putting historic landmarks and the tourism industry at risk.

"If I were governor, I'd be out there talking about it (sea rise) every day," Eric Buermann, a former general counsel to the state Republican Party who also chaired the South Florida Water Management District, told the AP. "He's really got to grab a hold of this, set a vision (and) rally the people behind it."

Miami and other communities are doing what they can. For the first time, Hillsborough County's planning commission is looking to consider climate change in its review of long-term growth. In a nod to the politically charged dispute over climate change, the commission is referring instead to "climate adaptation." This is a silly word game; rather than indulge climate-skeptics, commissioners should start thinking seriously about how to better protect a county where 40,000 properties already are covered by flood insurance.

Local governments have a role. But they should not be forced to act in a vacuum. These efforts need to be coordinated through a statewide strategy. That's why it's imperative that the governor quit denying reality and widely accepted science. He needs to give the state effort greater urgency. Local communities cannot afford to storm-proof many of these major public works projects by themselves, and the state and local governments need a cost-sharing plan. They also need to agree on a more responsible and unified approach for managing growth. As most Floridians live within 60 miles of the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico, sea level rise is hardly a hypothetical problem, and not one this governor should slough off to his successor.

Advertisement

This site no longer supports your current browser. Please use a modern and up-to-date browser version for the best experience.

Chrome Firefox Safari Edge