1. Opinion

Editorial: No denying climate change impact in Florida

Published Sep. 9, 2016

The effects of man-made climate change, which scientists have warned about for decades, are now lapping at Florida's coastlines. In South Florida, rising sea levels are already overwhelming stormwater systems, damaging infrastructure and flooding homes. Tampa Bay can't be far behind. But local governments can do only so much to confront this global challenge. Floridians must demand that state and national leaders shed any notion that climate change can be ignored and confront the problem with urgency.

A recent New York Times report described cities along the East Coast, from Virginia to the Florida Keys, where frequent tidal flooding is no longer a distant threat. In low-lying coastal areas, the newspaper reported, "a high tide and a brisk wind are all it takes to send water pouring into streets and homes."

The ramifications are vast and varied. On the environmental front, saltwater intrusion will cause widespread damage to plants and animals, as well as drinking water. For home­owners and residents, quality of life will be harmed or they will be uprooted altogether. Some property owners who live on the water are paying to elevate their houses and seawalls. What about the millions of Floridians who can't afford those daunting expenses?

Lacking any meaningful help from Washington or Tallahassee, local governments are taxing their residents and attacking the problem neighborhood by neighborhood, intersection by intersection. In Miami Beach, workers tear up chronically flood-prone streets, raise them with extra dirt and rebuild them with added drainage capacity. The approach appears to help — until the next flood washes it all away. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn have made planning for climate change part of their agendas. To do anything else would be head-in-the-sand foolish, and both mayors are well ahead of Gov. Rick Scott in confronting the inevitable.

Scott famously avoided answering questions about climate change by stating he's not a scientist, and his Department of Environmental Protection was ordered not to even use the term. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Miami native, has resorted to pseudo-science, acknowledging climate change by saying the climate has always been changing. But he refuses to commit to any policy fixes that could curb the calamitous effects of greenhouse gas emissions. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump represents the willfully ignorant fringe, mocking progressive leaders for sounding the alarm about climate change, which he has called a hoax. Between the presidential candidates, only Hillary Clinton takes the matter seriously. She accepts the fact that climate change is happening and is committed to addressing it through laws and technologies that create clean-energy jobs. "The science is clear," Clinton said at a campaign rally Tuesday at the University of South Florida. "It's real."

With more than 1,300 miles of coastline, Florida is undeniably vulnerable to the effects of swelling seas. But local, piecemeal fixes can't come close to addressing this crisis. Officials who dismiss the urgency of climate change do so at the peril of residents, businesses and natural resources. Yet instead of searching for ambitious solutions, Republican leaders in Florida dismiss the threat as a nonissue and then use it as a partisan wedge. How high will the water have to rise before Republican leaders accept this reality?