As Climate Reality heads to Miami for our next Climate Leadership Corps training, you may be wondering, “Why Florida? Is it possibly because the Climate Reality staff really just want to visit the beach and enjoy the Miami surf and sunshine?” Well … okay, yes we do, but there are a few other reasons we’re flying south for the fall.
As you may have heard, Florida’s state environmental officials were reportedly recently ordered not to use the term “climate change” in any government communications, emails, or reports. And this in one of the US states in the most danger from climate change.
So. If they’re not allowed to say the words “climate change” in Florida, how do we possibly describe what’s going on there?
Let’s give it a try ...
When it comes to rising seas due to … well, you know … Florida’s got good reason to be concerned.
Florida’s cities, infrastructure, beachfront homes, and natural ecosystems are among the most vulnerable in the nation to water creeping up the coast . By the year 2060, it is estimated that sea levels along Florida’s coastline could rise an additional 9 inches to 2 feet.
It’s already costing Florida dearly to deal with the issue. Even sunny-day flooding is becoming a common occurrence because tides are now higher and moving further inland. And the problem worsens when it rains, especially for traffic.
For a few days each fall, the highest tides, called “king tides,” now flood streets in Miami Beach. Currently, there is a five year, $300 million project underway to install 60 pumps in the city just to pump out flooding. King tides this year are projected to rise to nearly four feet . To give you an idea: beach streets start to flood at around three feet.
It’s not just suede shoes this threatens, as anticipated sea-level rise in Florida will also impact the state’s tourism, real estate, and fresh water supply. Florida's tourism industry could lose $178 billion annually by 2100.
It is projected that cumulative costs to the US economy of responding to sea level rise and flooding events could be as high as $325 billion by 2100 for four feet of sea level rise, with $130 billion expected to be incurred just in Florida.
Florida has witnessed an increase in extreme weather events as a result of its changing climate (Are we allowed to say that? Is that cheating? We’d have to ask the governor.). In 2011 alone, the state broke 34 heat records, 27 rainfall records, and experienced cases of extreme drought in multiple counties. Between 2000-2013, widespread tropical storms and hurricanes have resulted in 24 major disaster declarations.
And in the near future, hurricanes could be even stronger with higher winds and heavier rainfall, potentially resulting in more Category 4 and 5 storms. In addition, changes in overall precipitation patterns are expected to lead to more heavy and more sporadic rainfall events, intensifying drought-flood cycles and increasing the risk of extreme flooding during storms.
Since 1970, temperatures in the US Southeast have risen by an average of 2 degrees F, with even higher average temperatures striking the summer months. If current trends continue, Florida stands to witness one of the most dramatic summer heat index increases in the US, with a predicted rise in the July heat index of 10 to 25 degrees F.
Basically, an already hot Florida is getting hotter.
Increasing temperatures in the state carry a unique set of challenges and public health threats. These include an increase in dangerous air pollutants and algae blooms that suffocate fish, coupled with a decrease in crop productivity due to drought. Not to mention the rise in heat-related illnesses, for which the elderly, very young, and impoverished are most at risk.
So. That’s what Florida stands to lose.
But there is a solution and a whole lot to gain.
Florida now requires newly constructed and renovated state buildings to meet green building requirements. This applies to school districts, state universities, municipalities, and other public infrastructure.
And, in 2009, Florida adopted California’s Clean Car Standard, which calls for a 30 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in new vehicles by 2016.
Though Florida isn’t currently even in the top ten solar-energy-producing states in the country, many are actively working to change the policies holding it back. Maybe you’ve heard Florida called the “Sunshine State”? Well, its ample sunshine means that Florida could be the third-largest solar-generating state in the US. A 2014 study by the Natural Resources Defense Council shows that ramping up utility energy efficiency programs alone could create 10,000 new jobs in Florida’s energy efficiency sector and save Florida households and businesses around $48 million in 2020.
So there is a lot of progress to be made, but the power is in our hands. What we need to ease Florida’s climate problems is a national commitment to accelerating the transition to a clean, renewable energy economy. And to do that, we need citizens to be educated, and to stand up and add their voices to demand action on … you know … now.
… Hey, look at that. We didn’t use the words “climate change.”
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