As climate change clouds gather, will Florida change its at­ti­tude?

Orlando Sentinel - - OPINION - By Randy Schultz

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.

PATTI BLAKE/AP

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