Dire report on global climate forecasts worsening problems in FL

As atmosphere continues to overheat, ‘our systems that support survival are failing’

By: - August 11, 2021 7:00 am

A young climate activist demonstrates at a town hall meeting. Credit: Scott Eisen, Getty Images, 2019

Global climate scientists declared “code red for humanity” this week in a report forecasting an actual doomsday for the planet if nations around the world, particularly the largest ones, do not dramatically and quickly reduce pollution destroying the atmosphere.

And while Florida is at elevated risk for climate impacts, due to its extensive coastlines, dense population, high water table and tendency to get in the way of hurricanes, the state has not one statewide initiative to convert to clean energy and halt the use of carbon-based fuels that pollute the atmosphere and cause the planet to warm.

The report, nearly 4,000 pages long and authored by 234 scientists from 66 nations, warns that at the current rate, the world’s greenhouse gas accumulations in the atmosphere will cause the climate to warm by more than 1.5 degrees Centigrade, which is considered the cutoff for avoiding the worst consequences of a damaged climate worldwide, and continue to get hotter, which is projected to be catastrophic.

Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations, under whose auspices the report was issued, called the findings “a code red for humanity.”

Indications of what will happen depending on how much the world reduces emissions. Credit: Climate Central

It warns of deadly heat waves and droughts that fuel massive wildfires and destroy farmlands, melted glaciers and ice sheets that cause the sea level to rise, swallowing islands and other low-lying regions, warmer oceans that kill coral reefs and drive stronger hurricanes, torrential rain events that cause widespread flooding — all across the world.

Carolyn Cox, coordinator at the Florida Climate Institute, a multi-disciplinary network of national and international research and public organizations, including 10 Florida universities, strained for optimism by stressing that while some damage to the planet is already irreversible, there’s still time to slow what will come next.

“We are facing some of the most severe impacts, which means we sort of have a chance in Florida to show people how to address climate change, or how not to,” Cox said, urging Gov. Ron DeSantis and other leaders who control the Florida Legislature to respond to the “code red” right away.

“This is about survival of species. Our systems that support survival are failing,” Cox said, referring to projected life-threatening changes in ecosystems, temperature and weather patterns.

Cox isn’t holding her breath that Florida leaders will take action. She anticipates the best hope will come from the federal government and the Biden administration instituting a national clean energy standard providing incentives to the private sector to convert rapidly to clean energy. When industries are able to control the market for clean energy and profit from it, they will influence lawmakers and drive change, she said.

That could promote more investments in clean energy such as electric vehicles and EV charging stations, which would reduce pollution from one the biggest sources: transportation, according to national climate reports.

Those investments could help cities implement local clean-energy projects to address the causes of sea-level rise, torrential rainstorms, excessive heat, and intensifying hurricanes.

It could subsidize industries that help convert homes and businesses to non-polluting solar and wind power, making them more resilient to across-the-grid power losses in natural disasters such as the deadly deep freeze that paralyzed much of Texas in February.

But none of that is lining up in Florida’s foreseeable future. In fact, bills proposed in one legislative session after another to convert the state’s economy to clean energy have been shirked by legislative leaders who decide which bills get hearings and which die of neglect.

Climate-induced weather disasters include record wildfires in the West, record-setting heat waves and droughts, regional flooding, and aggressive hurricanes. Here, smoke plumes and hurricane clouds are visible at once. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

Florida Conservation Voters, the Earthjustice team in Florida, Sierra Club of Florida and other groups who take climate scientists around the world at their word are furious with Florida’s political leadership, especially now that the United Nations-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued a doomsday alarm.

“The IPCC report is yet another reminder of the absolute urgency of the climate crisis. But you’d never know it if you listen to Governor Ron DeSantis and his climate-denier allies in the Florida Legislature,” said Jonathan Webber, deputy director of Florida Conservation Voters, in a statement for the Phoenix.

“Unfortunately, Governor DeSantis seems more interested in raising taxes on working families and giving tax breaks to wealthy corporations than providing any kind of leadership on clean energy.” Webber didn’t call DeSantis a climate-change denier — as was the governor’s mentor, former President Donald Trump — but a do-nothing on the causes of climate change.

“In contrast, lawmakers Rep. Anna Eskamani, Sen. Lori Berman, and others have filed legislation to foster a steady transition to clean energy every year of the DeSantis Administration,” Webber continued. “But without the governor’s leadership, these bills have failed to receive even a single committee hearing. Florida voters of all political persuasions expect that their leaders will, at a minimum, keep our state beautiful for future generations. If they don’t act on climate, voters will elect leaders who will.”

DeSantis’ office has not responded to requests for comment on the IPCC report and the dire warnings issued by its authors. The position of Florida chief resilience officer, or climate czar, created in July 2019, was occupied for just six months and has been vacant for a year and a half.

Eskamani, an Orange County Democrat, and Berman, a Palm Beach County Democrat, have for the last three years sponsored bills to convert the state to clean energy, phase out pollutants, install solar panels on Florida public schools, and other clean-energy initiatives. None of the measures have passed in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Only two climate-related pieces of legislation have ever passed: a 2020 bill by climate activist and former state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez to require sea-level-rise assessments ahead of publicly funded construction project, and this year’s sea-level-rise adaptation program to fund projects statewide that address consequences of flooding. Neither addresses the causes of worsening climate change.

Tania Galloni, Earthjustice’s managing attorney in Florida, and others agree that adaptation to the changed climate is required, since damage is already done, but treating the symptom does nothing to cure the disease.

Even if greenhouse gas emissions ceased today, the warming would continue for years before stopping, the report said, underscoring the urgency of taking substantial action immediately.

“Time’s up,” Galloni said in a press statement. “Sea level rise is having major impacts in Florida that are accelerating. We can’t build our way out of this. Our state leaders keep talking about ‘adapting’ our way out of climate change, but the fact is we need to cut fossil fuel emissions.

“Florida has to stop living in the past – stop adding more fossil fuel power, like ‘natural’ gas plants — and instead needs to double down on solar and other renewable power sources.”

In its last session, the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature not only ignored bills to convert to clean energy, it passed bills preempting the right of local communities to implement clean-energy programs that phase out oil and natural gas.

Congresswoman Kathy Castor, a Tampa-based Democrat and chair of the U.S. House Committee on the Climate Crisis, implored Gov. DeSantis to veto that bill, but he did not.

She cited the value of immediately reducing not only long-lasting carbon emissions but also concentrated methane emissions from oil and so-called natural gas. She also touted the many jobs that would be created by converting to a clean-energy economy, a message she has promoted for years.

“Every fraction of a degree counts” in the urgent effort to avoid overheating the atmosphere further, Castor said in a New York Times editorial Monday following release of the global climate report.

“Clean energy solutions and the rapid phase out of carbon dioxide and methane pollution cannot wait any longer,” she said in a separate statement issued by the Climate Crisis Committee she leads. “This report confirms what Americans are experiencing firsthand – the devastating impacts of the climate crisis are here, and they are getting worse.”

“Right now, over 100 major wildfires are burning across 15 states. Red tide is plaguing Florida’s coasts, hurricane season is getting longer, and deadly heat waves are scorching communities,” she said in the statement. “Although the situation is dire, today’s report serves as a call to action. Leading experts from around the world are telling us that if we act now, it is not too late to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis.”

Calling for support of President Biden’s pending “Build Back Better Agenda” and her committee’s “Climate Crisis Action Plan” of 2020, Castor said in the statement that the crisis demands “nothing less than the most ambitious plan for clean energy and resilient infrastructure in American history.”

“We’re already living with the devastating consequences of having warmed the planet more than 1°C. From the deadly heat domes in the Northwest to the harmful algal blooms killing the fish that we see washed up on the shores of Florida, humans have caused this problem. But we have the tools to fix it,” Castor wrote in the New York Times piece.

Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican listed as a member of a bipartisan congressional caucus on climate change, has not responded to a request for comment on the IPCC climate report, Biden’s climate plan, or the work of Castor’s committee.

At the Florida Climate Institute, Cox said science must prevail over politics.

“We can’t afford to waste time bickering,” she said.

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Laura Cassels
Laura Cassels

Laura Cassels is a reporter, former statehouse bureau chief, and former city editor. She is a classical pianist, a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper.