DeSantis and other Florida Republicans face a climate change problem

In 2018, when then Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., ran for governor of Florida, and he proudly distanced himself from the science of climate change. “I’m not in the pews of the global warming leftists,” he said during the campaign. “I’m not a global warming person. I don’t want that label.”

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 caused 10-foot storm surges, wiped out homes and businesses and left hundreds of residents stranded.

The Associated Press reported that “Ian’s rapid intensification occurred after it traveled over Caribbean waters that are about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) warmer than normal, largely due to climate change.” The warmer water creates “a lot more rocket fuel for the storm,” hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach of Colorado State University told the AP.

Despite the firmly established science linking climate change to more powerful hurricanes, as well as sea level rise helping to exacerbate their impact, many Florida Republican politicians, including the governor and both of its U.S. senators, have opposed government action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as causing warmer temperatures. But while they avoid any admission that burning fossil fuels is the underlying cause of climate change, they must also try to address the growing risks in the state that scientists have linked to a warming world.

Wind knocks palm trees off Sarasota Bay during Hurricane Ian.

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

DeSantis has embraced spending on restoration of Everglades wetlands and “resilience” for coastal cities, such as improved drainage and raising sea walls. Last May, he said his state must “address the challenges of flooding, intensified storm events [and] sea ​​level rise.” Without labeling the issue a climate change issue, the DeSantis administration estimates that sea level rise will put $26 billion in Florida residential property at risk of regular flooding by 2045.

The governor has declined to venture an explanation for why sea levels are rising and storms are intensifying, explaining that he fears that admitting that human activities are causing climate change would accept the premise that people should change their ways to reduce their severity .

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

DeSantis’ track 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 job a few months later, he didn’t bother to find a replacement. He also created a position of chief science officer. Environmentalists were disappointed when he appointed Michael La Rosa, Florida chairman of the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization known for advocating fossil fuel-friendly policies, to the Florida Public Service Commission, which oversees the state’s utilities.

DeSantis also supported buying 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 curbed the rooftop solar market.

But Florida remains a laggard in utility-scale renewable energy, and is among a minority of states without legal requirements that its utilities increase renewable energy production. And this summer, DeSantis proposed banning state pension funds from factoring climate change vulnerabilities and carbon emissions into their investments.

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

A canal in a trailer park filled with trash and RVs.

After Hurricane Irma on September 12, 2017, a canal in a trailer park in Marathon, Fla. in the Florida Keys littered with trash and campers. (Marc Serota/Getty Images)

The effects of climate change routinely pose challenges to coastal communities in Florida. Rising sea levels cause flooding on even sunny days in waterfront communities from St. Petersburg to Miami, and studies suggest that the problem will worsen in the coming years.

In many recent years, the state has experienced stronger storms due to warmer water temperatures and more evaporation in the warmer air.

The state has also seen no shortage of devastating storms coinciding with the steep temperature rises seen in recent decades. Hurricane Irma hit Florida and its northern neighbors in 2017, causing 129 deaths and $54 billion in damage. The next year, Hurricane Michael made landfall in the Florida Panhandle as a Category 5 storm, killing 59 people in the United States, where it racked up another $25.1 billion in damage. Numerous studies have shown that hurricanes have become stronger due to climate change, and many researchers say the effect was evident in Irma and Michael.

Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses a news conference at a podium labeled: Family-Focused Tax Relief, surrounded by mostly young supporters.

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

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

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

As a senator, Scott has recently shifted to acknowledging the existence of climate change but opposing action to address it. “The weather is always changing,” Scott said in the 11-point “Plan for America,” a policy roadmap he released this year in his capacity as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “We take climate change seriously, but not hysterically. We will not adopt silly policies that harm our economy or our jobs.”

Late.  Marco Rubio.

Late. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks outside the White House at a news conference on Sept. 15 (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Late. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., acknowledges that the Earth is warming, but he has argued that “many scientists would debate what percentage is attributable to humans versus normal fluctuations.”

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

Rubio has joined the Senate Climate Solutions Caucus and endorsed bills to address some of the effects of climate change, such as measures to restore both the Everglades and coastal reefs. But he opposes measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and supports increased production of the fossil fuels whose combustion caused the problem in the first place.

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

Rubio and Scott both have lifetime scorecards from the League of Conservation Voters, an American environmental advocacy group, of 7%.

Senators Rick Scott, left, and Marco Rubio.

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

Florida Republicans weren’t always so afraid of environmental protection. Republican Governor Jeb Bush established a conservation program to allocate $100 million in state aid to environmental protection projects, which continued under his successor Charlie Crist. Scott cut that down to less than $28 million. Crist is now a Democratic member of Congress running against DeSantis for governor.

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

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

However, climate scientists say climate science denial will not be a tenable position in the long run, as the threat to Florida is existential. Peter Gleick, a climate scientist who received the MacArthur Fellowship, referred to as the “genius grant”, says it this way: “A future Hurricane Ian, with the three feet of sea level rise to come, will irreparably wipe out central and southern Florida.”

How does climate change lead to worse hurricanes? Check out this explanation from Yahoo Immersive to find out.

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