DeSantis and other Florida Republicans face climate change dilemma

In 2018, while Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., was a candidate for governor of Florida, he proudly walked away from the science of climate change. “I am not in the pews of the global warming leftist church,” he said during his campaign. “I am not a global warming person. I don’t want this label on me.

But with warmer ocean temperatures increasing the power of hurricanes and higher sea levels exacerbating storm surges, DeSantis, like many other Florida residents, may no longer have the luxury of ignoring climate change. . This week, parts of the state’s Gulf Coast were devastated by Hurricane Ian, a Category 4 hurricane that brought 10-foot storm surges, destroyed homes and businesses and left hundreds of stranded residents.

The Associated Press reported that “Ian’s rapid intensification occurred after traveling over Caribbean waters that are approximately 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) warmer than normal, in large partly because of climate change”. This warmer water creates “a lot more rocket fuel for the storm,” Phil Klotzbach, a hurricane researcher at Colorado State University, told the AP.

Despite the firmly established science linking climate change to more powerful hurricanes, as well as rising sea levels contributing to their impact, many Florida Republican politicians, including the governor and his two U.S. senators, have resisted government action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. which cause warmer temperatures. Yet even if they avoid admitting that burning fossil fuels is the underlying cause of climate change, they must also try to manage the growing risks in the state that scientists have linked to global warming.

Wind batters palm trees off Sarasota Bay during Hurricane Ian.

Gusty winds blow across Sarasota Bay as Hurricane Ian heads south on Sept. 28 in Sarasota, Fla. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

DeSantis enacted expenditures for Everglades wetland restoration and coastal town “resilience,” such as improving drainage and raising levees. In May last year, he said his state needed to “address challenges posed by flooding, intensifying storms [and] sea ​​levels are rising.” Without labeling the problem a climate change problem, the DeSantis administration estimates that rising sea levels will put $26 billion in Florida residential properties at risk of regular flooding. 2045.

The governor avoided venturing into explaining why sea levels are rising and storms are intensifying, saying he fears admitting human activities are causing climate change would accept the premise that people should change their ways to reduce its severity.

“What I’ve found is that people when they start talking about things like global warming, they usually use it as an excuse to do a bunch of leftist stuff that they want to do anyway” , DeSantis said at a sea level rise event last year. “We don’t do any leftist stuff.

DeSantis’ record on climate change has been less harsh than his pugilistic comments might suggest. He appointed the state’s first resilience officer, but after the appointee left the post a few months later, he didn’t bother to find a replacement. It also created a scientific director position. Environmentalists were disappointed when he appointed Florida-based Michael La Rosa as chairman of the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization known for advocating fossil fuel-friendly policies, to the Florida Public Service Commission, which oversees public services of State.

DeSantis has also backed the purchase of 20,000 acres in the Everglades to prevent oil development, and the state is spending money on electric vehicle charging stations. He even vetoed a utility-backed bill that would have crippled the rooftop solar market.

But Florida still lags behind in utility-scale renewable energy, being among the minority of states without a legal requirement for its utilities to increase renewable energy generation. And this summer, DeSantis proposed banning state pension funds from factoring climate change vulnerabilities and carbon emissions into its investments.

DeSantis’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A canal in a trailer park littered with debris and campers.

After Hurricane Irma on September 12, 2017, a channel in a trailer park in Marathon, Florida in the Florida Keys is filled with debris and campers. (Marc Serota/Getty Images)

The impacts of climate change regularly pose challenges to Florida’s coastal communities. Rising sea levels are causing flooding even on sunny days in riverside communities from St. Petersburg to Miami, and studies suggest the problem will worsen in years to come.

In recent years, the state has experienced stronger storms due to warmer water temperatures and greater evaporation into warmer air.

The state has also had no shortage of devastating storms that coincide with the sharp increases in temperature seen in recent decades. Hurricane Irma hit Florida and its northern neighbors in 2017, killing 129 people and causing $54 billion in damage. The following year, Hurricane Michael made landfall in the Florida Panhandle as a Category 5 storm, killing 59 people in the United States, where it caused an additional $25.1 billion in damage. Numerous studies have shown that hurricanes have become stronger due to climate change, and many scientists say this effect was apparent in Irma and Michael.

Governor Ron DeSantis addresses a press conference from a podium marked Family-Oriented Tax Relief, surrounded by mostly young supporters.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis holds a press conference at Anna Maria Oyster Bar Landside in Bradenton, Fla. (Thomas Simonetti for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

DeSantis, of course, isn’t alone among Florida elected officials who want to avoid this discussion. In 2015, when Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., was governor of the state, the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting reported that Florida Department of Environmental Protection employees were “ordered not to use the term “climate change” or “global warming”. ‘ in all official communications, emails or reports, according to former DEP employees, consultants, volunteers and records. The Scott administration has denied that such a ban was ever issued.

Scott’s public statements, however, often cast doubt on climate science. “Obviously our environment is changing all the time, and whether it’s cycles we go through or whether it’s man-made, I wouldn’t be able to tell you which one it is,” Scott said. after Hurricane Irma.

As a senator, Scott has recently turned to acknowledging the existence of climate change, but opposes action to address it. “Times always change,” Scott said in the 11-Point “Plan for America,” a political roadmap he released this year in his capacity as chairman of the Republican National Senate Committee. “We take climate change seriously but not hysterically. We will not adopt foolish policies that hurt our economy or our jobs.

Senator Marco Rubio.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks outside the White House during a September 15 press conference. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., acknowledges that the Earth is warming, but he said “many scientists would debate the man-made percentage versus normal fluctuations.”

However, leading climatologists note that there is remarkable unanimity in their community regarding long-standing findings that greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation are the primary causes of global warming. In fact, 99.9% of peer-reviewed scientific papers find that climate change is primarily human-caused, according to a 2021 survey of 88,125 climate studies.

Rubio joined the Senate Climate Solutions Caucus and approved bills aimed at addressing some of the effects of climate change, such as measures to restore both the Everglades and coastal reefs. But he opposes actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and supports increased production of fossil fuels, the burning of which caused the problem in the first place.

“Americans, especially Floridians, are right to worry about climate change,” he wrote in a USA Today op-ed in 2019. “But they are also right to worry about overreaction regressive.” He added that “the good news is [climate change] problems are manageable.

Both Rubio and Scott have lifetime voting scorecards from the League of Conservation Voters, an American conservation group, of 7%.

Senators Rick Scott, left, and Marco Rubio.

The senses. of Florida Rick Scott and Marco Rubio speak to reporters outside the West Wing of the White House on Jan. 22, 2019. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

Florida Republicans weren’t always so wary of environmental protection. Republican Gov. Jeb Bush established a conservation program to set aside $100 million in public funding for environmental protection projects, which continued under his GOP successor, Charlie Crist. Scott reduced it to less than $28 million. Crist is now a Democratic congressman running against DeSantis for governor.

Former President Donald Trump, another Florida resident, has also made his feelings known about climate change, calling it a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese government and meant to weaken the US economy.

Heightened political polarization under Trump has pushed Republicans in Florida even further toward an anti-environmental stance, as the state’s economy comes under increasing attack from the effects of climate change.

Climate scientists say, however, that denying climate science will not be a tenable position in the long run, because the threat to Florida is existential. Peter Gleick, a climatologist who received the MacArthur Fellowship called the “genius grant,” put it this way: “A future Hurricane Ian, with the sea level rise of one meter which is announced, will irretrievably obliterate the center and the south of Florida.”

How is climate change leading to stronger hurricanes? Check out this explainer from Yahoo Immersive to find out.

Teresa H. Sadler