The leader of the most economically developed nation in the world told fellow Americans on this cloudy, muggy south Florida afternoon that “climate change cannot be edited out of the conversation,” as some would like it to be. He spoke from the imperiled Everglades wetlands about the way that climate change threatens the US economy.
On a limestone slab that separates the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, a population of 2.6 million people and 19 million annual visitors must share diminishing resources as the ocean waters rise. Miami is the #1 city in the world at risk for asset loss from increasing sea level, and #9 in the world for the threat of migration, yet every minute, investors and governments mint real estate dollars at a risk to the general population. Europe and South America both have substantial stakes in this development.
Climate change is already affecting the region. The large peninsula of Florida is one of those low, flat areas where the open spaces and roads not normally part of the swamps now flood even when the sun is shining. By 2100, the rising oceans may eventually submerge most or all of the Everglades, including one of our most popular national parks. Intrusion of ocean salt water into fresh water aquifers underground could damage entire ecosystems—even those now inhabited by humans. This week, the Miami Herald reported that scientists meeting in Broward County revealed new research which showed that projections from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have been exceeded.
As we noted in an earlier article, Governor Rick Scott’s administration has reportedly forbidden state environmental officials to mention the climate issue. (Nonetheless, the climate-friendly renewable power market in Florida could be set to grow in a big way with 1.5 gigawatts swelling out of Hanwha’s record-setting Q.ANTUM solar cells.) On Saturday, President Obama devoted his entire weekly radio talk to the subject of climate change. He cautioned:
“The Everglades is one of the most special places in our country. But it’s also one of the most fragile. Rising sea levels are putting a national treasure—and an economic engine for the South Florida tourism industry—at risk.”
Brian Deese, a senior adviser to Obama, added on the White House blog that “We’re far beyond a debate about climate change’s existence. We’re focused on mitigating its very real effects here at home.”
Regional government leaders in much of South Florida–Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, and Monroe Counties–are mostly ignoring the political controversy. They have organized themselves into a Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact to work on climate change adaptation for the state, especially for its coastal communities.
By going to mangrove and egret and alligator country today, President Obama de facto spotlighted one of the American locations most vulnerable to sea level rise. His attention has challenged presidential candidates to reveal their own thoughts. The issue of government censorship remains widely politicized despite a few denials, and Wisconsin has recently muzzled officials as well.
Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a just announced presidential candidate, recently voted against an amendment stating that climate change is real and “human activity significantly contributes” to it.
Another expected presidential contender from Florida, Jeb Bush, made a somewhat more realistic observation last Thursday, “Look, the climate is changing. Obviously it’s changing. Down where I live… in a place where you’re pretty close to sea level, a couple of inches starts having an impact.” Bush has yet to scope it out or suggest any solutions.
And Texas Republican Ted Cruz, who announced his candidacy for president last month, went so far as to harangue Seth Meyers and his national TV audience on “Late Night”:
“Debates on this should follow science, and should follow data. And many of the alarmists on global warming, they’ve got a problem because the science doesn’t back them up.”
But then, none of these politicians are really scientists, as they keep on saying… However, an increasing number of Americans—most of them also non-scientists and hailing from both Florida and the other 49 states—are beginning to agree with the President that “this is the only planet we’ve got. And years from now, I want to be able to look our children and grandchildren in the eye and tell them that we did everything we could to protect it.”
You can follow the action and add your own thoughts at the hashtag #ActOnClimate.