The Tampa Bay Times ran some excellent coverage last week on the issue of climate change in the special election for Florida’s 13th Congressional District. While climate change and sea level rise are ever-present issues in coastal Florida, the recent reporting was in response to a newly released study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
The study found increasingly variable fluctuations in sea level along the eastern Gulf Coast – higher summer peaks and lower winter troughs. The variations are the result of local factors such as precipitation and wind, but the effect amplifies the impacts of global sea level rise, a problem attributed to climate change.
In fact, Pinellas County has already begun to conduct a vulnerability assessment to detect which areas of the county are most at risk from sea level rise, having seen its share of flooding already. Knowing the serious local implications, Times writer Curtis Krueger tracked down each of the three Congressional candidates and pressed them for their thoughts on climate change. Of the three candidates, Alex Sink (D), David Jolly (R), and Lucas Overby (L), only Sink recognized the severity of the issue and the importance of a federal response. In fact, both Jolly and Overby rejected the scientific consensus that humans have profoundly contributed to climate change and downplayed any role for the federal government in addressing the issue.
The Times was appropriately disheartened by this response and called out these two candidates in a follow-up editorial on the subject. Blasting both Jolly and Overby as taking “an irresponsible position based on ignorance, or worse, pandering,” the editorial board demanded a stronger commitment to addressing climate issues from “candidates hailing from a peninsular county in a peninsular state where high tides are already rising due to climate change.”
This is exactly the sort of accountability we need to demand from our elected officials and candidates for public office at every level. Too often, climate is an invisible issue in elections. Even in the 2012 Presidential cycle, the candidates made it through all four debates without a single mention of the issue. Kudos to the Times for not letting it slip by in this race. Congressional candidates should undergo scrutiny for their potential impacts on federal policy, but the issue plays out in all levels of government, from governors to municipal officials making plans for climate adaptation in local communities. We’ve already spotlighted the current state of the Florida governor’s race in a previous blog as another election with high stakes for climate. Remember to do your part this election year by pressing candidates for their plans on climate change to ensure our leaders accept reality and are willing to take action.