South Florida is one of the most vulnerable regions in the nation to the effects of climate change. But you wouldn’t know that listening to the two Republican presidential candidates who have held office in Florida, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio.
Now, a group of Florida mayors are taking Florida Senator Rubio and former Governor Bush to task on their climate denial. Fifteen mayors from cities in South Florida — including Miami, West Palm Beach, and Fort Lauderdale — sent letters to Rubio and Bush this week, calling on them to “acknowledge the reality and urgency of climate change and to address the upcoming crisis it presents our communities” and to meet with them within the next month to discuss climate change.
“Ignoring climate science and doubling down on fossil fuels will only make the climate crisis more rapid and expensive,” the mayors write in their letter to Bush. “With the presidential election fast approaching, it is critical that your positions on these issues are well informed by the experience of our communities.”
Many of the mayors are Democrats, but as the Miami Herald points out, one of them — Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado — is a Republican and a Rubio supporter. He told the Herald that he and the rest of the mayors want to ensure that climate change is talked about more in the presidential race, and that the best way of doing that is to target candidates “closer to home” — i.e. those from Florida.
“Anyone who thinks that the topic of climate change is a partisan issue is not focused on the reality which we as public officials and citizens are dealing with. This is a crisis that grows day by day,” Regalado said in a statement.
The mayors of South Florida have reason to be worried. The region has been called “ground zero” for sea level rise, as the region’s porous ground and proximity to the coast puts it at particular risk of inundation. Already, many cities in the region are seeing “sunny day flooding,” when high tide causes seawater to fill the streets. According to the World Resources Institute, South Florida could see another nine inches to two feet of sea level rise by 2060.
South Florida’s counties have banded together to start preparing for this rise in sea levels, but though regional efforts are crucial, the mayors say in the letters to the GOP candidates that they aren’t enough.
“These expensive measures to protect homes, businesses, and infrastructure will only serve as a temporary stopgap unless global warming emissions are substantially reduced,” they write. “Adapting to climate change at the local level is necessary, but it is not sufficient. We need a realistic national plan to slow global warming emissions and avoid the worst impacts of climate change.”
Rubio and Bush, however, might take some convincing. In a speech in October, the mayors’ letter points out, Rubio referred to President Obama’s actions on climate change as “trying to change the weather.” He’s also called the Paris climate deal an “unfunny joke” and has said that he doesn’t “believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it.”
Bush, for his part, has said that he does think humans have contributed to climate change, but he’s also said that people who accept the science behind climate change — that it’s happening and that humans are the main cause, something that 97 percent of publishing climate scientists agree upon — are “really arrogant.”
In Florida, though, accepting the science isn’t arrogance — it’s a matter of survival.
“We know that climate change will be a disaster for South Florida, but the speed and scale of the disaster will depend on how quickly we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Philip Stoddard, signatory of the letter and mayor of the City of South Miami, said in a statement. “We are doing what we can at the local level, but the big changes have to come from our elected leaders at the national level.”