Gov. Scott, lis­ten to stu­dents on cli­mate change

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - VOICES & OPINION - Ed­i­to­ri­als are the opin­ion of the Sun Sen­tinel Edi­to­rial Board and writ­ten by one of its mem­bers or a de­signee. The Edi­to­rial Board con­sists of Edi­to­rial Page Edi­tor Rose­mary O’Hara, Elana Simms, Andy Reid and Edi­tor-in-Chief Julie Anderson.

Florida’s chil­dren are tired of wait­ing for grownups to take ac­tion on cli­mate change, and that in­cludes Gov. Rick Scott.

So a week af­ter the gover­nor an­nounced his bid for the U.S. Sen­ate, eight stu­dents filed suit Mon­day to force him and leg­isla­tive lead­ers to take ac­tion on cli­mate change.

Good. The courts — in­clud­ing the court of pub­lic opin­ion — should hold cli­mat­e­change-de­niers, like Scott, ac­count­able for fail­ing to ad­dress the epic threat fac­ing those of us at Ground Zero.

South Florid­i­ans know the flood­wa­ters that more fre­quently over­take our roads and threaten our homes are a bi­par­ti­san prob­lem that can­not be ig­nored.

Yet dur­ing his two terms in Tal­la­has­see, Gov. Scott has done noth­ing to ad­dress the prob­lem. In­stead, he looked the other way as in­cen­tives to use al­ter­na­tive en­er­gies, like so­lar, were elim­i­nated. And he re­port­edly pro­hib­ited his staff from us­ing the words “cli­mate change,” “global warm­ing” and “sus­tain­abil­ity.”

The law­suit seeks to re­duce Florida’s use of fos­sil fu­els, which con­trib­ute to air pol­lu­tion and worsen cli­mate change threats, such as sea level rise.

Scott quickly dis­missed the law­suit as “po­lit­i­cal the­ater.” Per­haps it is. But if it raises the cur­tain on Tal­la­has­see politi­cians who’ve re­fused to pro­tect our state’s as­sets and fu­ture, it de­serves a stand­ing O.

The stu­dents, from el­e­men­tary school to col­lege, are team­ing with Our Chil­dren’s Trust, an Ore­gon-based ad­vo­cacy group that has filed law­suits in mul­ti­ple states — and one against the fed­eral gov­ern­ment — to force re­luc­tant politi­cians to en­act cli­mate re­cov­ery poli­cies.

In Florida, they want the courts to re­quire the state to re­duce its out­put of green­house gases by us­ing al­ter­na­tive en­ergy sources, such as so­lar and wind power.

It’s fit­ting that stu­dents, who will face the con­se­quences of cli­mate change, are the faces of this le­gal fight.

“With­out a sta­ble cli­mate sys­tem, ev­ery­thing we care about is at risk,” said Os­car Psy­chas, a col­lege stu­dent from Gainesville.

The law­suit tar­gets Scott and other state lead­ers, in­clud­ing Agri­cul­ture Com­mis­sioner Adam Put­nam, who’s run­ning to be our next gover­nor.

Scott’s of­fice re­sponded by ques­tion­ing the mo­tives of those who filed the law­suit and high­light­ing the $4 bil­lion in en­vi­ron­men­tal spend­ing in the state bud­get. He failed to men­tion, how­ever, that a 2014 con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment — ap­proved by 75 per­cent of Florida vot­ers — forces the state to ded­i­cate a share of real-estate sales taxes to ac­quir­ing and restor­ing con­ser­va­tion and re­cre­ation lands.

In truth, it took a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment to force Scott and leg­isla­tive lead­ers to re­store fund­ing for wa­ter and land con­ser­va­tion. Even then, their first re­sponse was to spend the money on salaries and ex­penses at state agen­cies like the Forestry Ser­vice. It took a law­suit to get them to up­hold the Florida Con­sti­tu­tion and spend the money as in­tended.

While Tal­la­has­see ig­nores the re­al­ity, South Florida com­mu­ni­ties are adding pumps, rais­ing roads and boost­ing sea walls. Palm Beach, Broward, Mi­ami-Dade and Mon­roe coun­ties for years have been work­ing on re­gional plans to adapt to sea level rise and other ef­fects of cli­mate change. Those plans, by the way, ex­pect the sea will be two feet higher by 2060.

But this isn’t just a South Florida prob­lem. A state with more than 1,300 miles of shore­line can’t af­ford to ig­nore the threat of sea level rise, which is caused by a warm­ing cli­mate.

Nei­ther should Florida lead­ers pre­tend the pol­lu­tion we pump into the air by burn­ing fos­sil fu­els isn’t mak­ing mat­ters worse by adding heat-trap­ping green­house gases.

“Those af­fect ev­ery­one … peo­ple from the Pan­han­dle to Mi­ami,” said Tampa at­tor­ney Guy Burns, part of the le­gal team be­hind the law­suit.

Law­suits are the only re­course when politi­cians fail to up­hold their oath to pro­tect our state. In the 1990s, it took a court fight to force them to get se­ri­ous about sav­ing the Ever­glades.

Park­land’s sur­vivors have shown the power of stu­dent ad­vo­cacy. Just a few week af­ter a gun­man killed 17 peo­ple at Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School, pres­sure from stu­dent ac­tivists helped pass Florida’s first new gun reg­u­la­tions in decades. A month later, those same stu­dents helped lead hun­dreds of thou­sands of de­mon­stra­tors in a march on Wash­ing­ton for sen­si­ble gun laws.

When cast­ing their bal­lots in Novem­ber, vot­ers will be asked to re­mem­ber the Park­land stu­dents’ call for gun con­trol.

Let them also re­mem­ber the call of these eight stu­dents, who seek to pro­tect Florida not only for them­selves, but for the stu­dents of to­mor­row.

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