Florida Governor Agrees To Meet With Climate Scientists After Letter Stirs Up Political Pressure

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) on left, and his Democratic rival former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist. CREDIT: AP PHOTO / STEVE CANNON
Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) on left, and his Democratic rival former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist. CREDIT: AP PHOTO / STEVE CANNON

A letter sent by ten Florida climate scientists to Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) appears to have generated real results.

The missive was delivered to Scott’s office on Tuesday by a group of prominent climate experts, ranging from professors at the University of Miami, to Florida State, to Florida International and Eckerd College. It requested a meeting with Scott to discuss the science behind climate change and what it could portend for Florida state policy. It noted that Scott has previously responded to questions about climate change with “I’m not a scientist.”

“We are scientists,” the letter said. “And we would like the opportunity to explain what is at stake for our state.”

The letter generated a slew of media coverage all week, including a previous story here at ThinkProgress. And according to a report by the Miami Herald, Scott agreed on Friday to meet with the group. The Governor originally stated that a member of his administration would hear out the scientists. But then Scott’s Democratic rival in the next gubernatorial election, Charlie Crist, announced Friday morning he would meet with the scientists personally. Shortly thereafter, Scott called the group to tell them he would talk with them himself.

“I would be happy to meet with them,” Scott said in a statement released by his campaign. “We have a great record on the environment and restoration projects in Florida.”

Jeff Chanton, the Florida State University oceanography professor who hand-delivered the letter to Scott’s office, said he was “very pleased” with both Crist and Scott’s responses. “I just want him to understand what the situation is — and put it in a historical, million-year context, about what the greenhouse gas history is,” Chanton told the Tampa Bay Times earlier this week. “It’s not rocket science. I can explain it. Give me half an hour.”

As the Miami Herald noted, Crist himself was previously a member of the Republican Party and a governor of Florida, back when climate change policies were much more politically popular with the GOP. Crist helped push a number of state-level policies in Florida to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, cut pollution, hold back offshore drilling, and restore degraded parts of Florida’s environment. Once Scott took over as governor in 2010, he and the Republican-controlled state legislature dismantled nearly all of those policies.

During the 2010 campaign, when asked by reporters if he believed in global warming, Scott replied that “I have not been convinced.”

But even as climate change remains a political football with Florida’s state government, municipal governments have already begun to move. Monroe, Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Broward counties joined forces in 2010 to produce a single plan addressing sea level rise. They adopted unified projections, and are moving with coordinated efforts to rebuild damaged infrastructure, resuscitate declining coastal ecosystems, and to protect themselves from flooding, storm surges, and saltwater intrusions into aquifers and fresh water supplies.

The counties cannot handle everything on their own, however. Some alterations to roads and sidewalks and other infrastructure has to be done in coordination with other counties or the state government. Nor can the four counties move all the money and resources that’s needed on their own. They need state aid.

The recently released National Climate Assessment warned that Southeast Florida is particularly vulnerable to sea level rise, and that “just inches of sea level rise will impair the capacity of stormwater drainage systems to empty into the ocean.” A tide gauge in Key West that’s been measuring sea levels since 1913 has detected an eight-inch rise as of 2013, and the World Resources Institute projects another rise of anywhere between nine inches and two feet by 2060. By 2030, the risk of storm surges at the four foot mark is anticipated to double, and the more dire scenarios project a sea level rise of as much as six feet by the end of the century.

That would do away with both Scott’s own beach-side mansion and the city of Miami. Meanwhile, 75 percent of South Florida’s residents — around 4.12 million people — live along the coast, and 2.4 million of them live within four feet of the tide line.