Can hurricanes get Florida politicians to stop denying climate change?

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Sep 8, 2017 · 3 min read

By Michelle Klug

As Florida braces to be hit by one of the strongest hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic, you’d think the state’s lawmakers would be talking about climate change. Or, they might be advocating for climate-friendly policies and talking urgently about the impact of sea-level rise and increasingly strong hurricanes.

But Florida’s top lawmakers don’t believe in climate change, even as it comes banging on the door.

Gov. Rick Scott

Governor Rick Scott is a long-time climate denier who reportedly banned Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection from even using the term. Senator Marco Rubio has stated on multiple occasions he doesn’t believe humans are causing climate change. Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran is a denier, as is former Governor Jeb Bush.

Not only have some lawmakers denied the existence of climate change, they’ve also denied requests for projects that would allow residents to better adapt. Last year, after municipalities and counties asked for money for water projects to help deal with sea-level rise impacting drinking water, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed half of the proposed projects and a majority of funding requested.

Climate change’s effects are difficult to ignore in Florida. Miami is expected to go underwater by the end of century, and sea-level rise is already literally on the doorstep of Miami Beach’s residents. The city has been forced to install million-dollar pumps to stop parts of the city from continuously flooding at high tide, but the pumps only have a 30-year shelf life and have already been proven to fail during storms less powerful than Irma.

Rising temperatures caused by climate change are thought to increase the intensity of hurricanes. More heat means more water that gets evaporated into the air. This water vapor is what fuels hurricanes, and eventually comes down as rain during storms.

Sea-level rise increases the intensity of rising flood waters during storms (aka storm surge), worsens flooding and is dangerous for residents and their property.

Current climate change solutions in Florida, like pumps, are just a band-aid on a bigger problem that is being ignored by lawmakers, and they don’t even account for hurricanes like Irma. Florida desperately needs people going to bat for residents and pushing for the federal government to adopt national policies to mitigate climate change. For 16 of the past 20 years, Florida has had at its helm a governor who denies climate change.

Will it take a catastrophic hurricane to convince Florida’s politicians that climate change needs to be addressed? And who will be the ones most hurt by their denial?

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