As climate change clouds gather, will Florida change its attitude?
Three years ago, University of Florida researchers came to this conclusion:
“Climate change is expected to result in increased temperatures of nearshore ocean water, and this could lead to increased growth of harmful microorganisms. These include algae that form noxious or toxic blooms, including red tides, and bacteria and other pathogens. This situation could have negative consequences in regard to human health and also Florida’s ocean-related economy.”
Ya think? Consider how environmental stories that affect Florida have piled up this week.
Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in the Panhandle as Hurricane Michael approached. Scott previously had declared states of emergency for the bluegreen algae crisis and the red tide crisis. On Monday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that severe effects from global warming could come not by the end of the century, but as soon as 2040.
In Florida, as the UF paper noted, higher temperatures feed the growth of toxic algae. When that toxin gets into coastal waters after being released from Lake Okeechobee, where it bloomed, it likely feeds the growth of red tide.
I spent many springs and summers in the Tampa Bay area before moving to Florida 44 years ago. Red tide came regularly, but not with the savagery of the last few months in the Gulf of Mexico.
Florida depends on a healthy coastal environment. That UF paper noted, “Nearly 80 percent of the 20 million people
NATIONAL VIEWPOINT in Florida live and work in counties bordering the ocean, and over 90 million tourists visit each year. Many go to the beach, or they fish, boat, and swim in coastal waters. The economy associated with these activities is huge and accounts for a large part of the state’s revenue.”
Yet for eight years Tallahassee has done nothing on climate change but refuse to acknowledge it, on Scott’s orders. The governor ducked questions by saying, “I’m not a scientist.” He’s also not a woman, yet he still signed bills restricting women’s access to health care supposedly on the basis of helping women.
Meanwhile, Scott’s “friend” President Trump has called climate change “a hoax.” He pulled the United States from the 2015 Paris Accord, from which came this week’s report.
The Trump administration wants to remove Obama-era restrictions on fossil fuel emissions, especially coal. Yet Drew Shindell, a climate sciences professor at Duke University, told The New York Times, “This report makes it clear: There is no way to mitigate climate change without getting rid of coal.”
Given all that we know, any leading politician who represents Florida at any level and denies the threat of climate change is beyond irresponsible. You can’t flush all denial from Tallahassee and Washington, but we should expect more from legislative leaders, the governor and the president.
“Floridians alone cannot stop climate change,” the UF researchers said. Correct, but the state can act to reduce or eliminate its effects. It could happen soon with a shift in Tallahassee.
Two of the state’s five water management districts oversee flood control and water quality for most of Florida. The Southwest Florida district begins north of Tampa and runs south and east until it meets the South Florida district, whose northern boundary is near Orlando.
From those districts come the pollutants that foul Lake Okeechobee, produce blue-green algae and exacerbate red tide. Within those districts are the projects designed to filter pollutants from runoff.
It will take lots of money to solve the algae crisis. A small tax on all property in the South Florida and Southwest Florida districts could finance an impressive plan. It would be more of an investment than an expense.
Yet Scott has used the water management districts as props. He has appointed compliant board members who regularly approve tax cuts, leaving the districts dangerously shorthanded.
The next governor will appoint a majority of board members in both districts within his first 14 months. Ron DeSantis or Andrew Gillum effectively could go around the Legislature.
As Scott [oversaw] preparations for Hurricane Michael, there [was] debate about how the storm might affect red tide. Dissipate it? Worsen it? What about the algae? Could heavy rainfall produce even more?
Florida has tolerated these poisons for decades. If we don’t eradicate them and respond in other ways to climate change, we will lose Florida as we know it.