This blog is a guest post written by Kristin Jacobs and Cindy Lerner and was originally published in Florida’s Sun Sentinel on May 23, 2014 and can be viewed here if you have a subscription to the paper.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Global Change Research Program released the 2014 National Climate Assessment, an important report analyzing the potential impacts of climate change on the U.S. and its territories. As South Florida elected officials, we are particularly concerned with the findings in the section, the “Southeast and the Caribbean,” which was authored by leading experts from the University of Florida, the South Florida Regional Planning Commission, the South Florida Water Management District, and Florida Atlantic University. Here’s what we found troubling:
“Sea level rise poses widespread and continuing threats to both natural and built environments, as well as the regional economy.”
“Rising temperatures and the associated increase in frequency, intensity, and duration of extreme heat events will affect public health, natural and built environments, energy, agriculture, and forestry.”
“Decreased water availability, exacerbated by population growth and land-use change, will continue to increase competition for water and impact the region’s economy and unique ecosystems.”
The report found the southeastern U.S. and the Caribbean — an area that’s home to more than 80 million people, including several major metropolitan areas right here in Florida — is “exceptionally vulnerable to sea level rise, extreme heat events, and decreased water availability” caused by climate change. For example, Miami and Tampa are among the cities at risk from sea-level rise, with areas around Miami-Dade County facing the loss of thousands of acres of farmland and increased risk of flooding.
Another potential adverse impact of climate change on Florida is an increased number of extreme heat events, contributing to a deterioration in air quality, a rise in hospital admissions, an increase in respiratory illnesses and even fatalities.
In addition, increased water temperatures caused by a warming climate could result in “harmful algal blooms and several disease-causing agents in inland and coastal waters,” damage to coral reefs, more rapid spread of non-native plants, reduced dairy and livestock production, drought and wildfires and many other problems. There’s also the potential for stronger storms and more incidences of extreme weather.
All of these impacts could be damaging, even devastating, to states like Florida. That is why we need to take strong action immediately to mitigate their effects. We should start with sources of carbon pollution, the largest of which is coal-burning power plants, and also includes transportation.
After all, we limit how much arsenic, lead and mercury power plants can emit. It is time we stop allowing power plants to dump unlimited carbon pollution into the air. The Environmental Protection Agency will soon propose carbon pollution standards for power plants. Our state needs a plan for meeting them.
Here in Florida, fortunately, we are blessed with tremendous solar power potential. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, Florida ranks third in the nation for solar potential. Let’s face it, we’re not known as the “Sunshine State” for nothing. Despite this, Florida is ranked just 18th for installed solar capacity, in large part because our state’s solar policies lag far behind many other states. For instance, as SEIA points out, Florida “has no renewable portfolio standard and does not allow power purchase agreements, two policies that have driven investments in solar in other states.”
As elected officials, we’re doing what we can to address the tremendous challenge of climate change. But frankly, this problem cannot and will not be solved at the local level alone. We also need action at the state and national levels.
That is why we are calling on Gov.Rick Scott to read this report, take its warnings seriously, and tell us his plan for meeting the EPA’s carbon pollution standards. As Florida’s top elected official, it’s time for Gov. Scott to address the challenges we face from climate change, to devise a plan to deal with it, and to work with elected officials across the state to get the job done. There’s no time to waste.
Cindy Lerner is Chair of the Miami/Dade County League of Cities and Mayor of Pinecrest.Kristin Jacobs is the Commissioner for District 2, Member of the White House’s National Climate Preparedness and Resilience Task Force.